Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Before We Were Yours: A Novel by [Lisa Wingate]

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a story that tells two stories, one from the past, and one from the present and connects the two. It is a historical fiction story.

The historical story line is set in 1939 United States. It tells the fictional story of a family that lives in a shantyboat on the Mississippi River. It’s a sad and tragic tale that, sadly, many people experienced in reality–their children wrenched from their homes and families and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, where they must face many cruelties. I was completely unaware of this orphanage and the cruel woman, Georgia Tann, who was behind it all. It is a heart-wrenching story, and I was appalled at how cruel Georgia Tann could be and how long she got away with destroying the lives of so many innocent children.

The modern day story line was set in Aiken, South Carolina and centered around a well-to-do family involved in politics. The main character in this story line was Avery Stafford, who was set to be married until she meets an elderly lady in a care facility who awakens uncomfortable questions in Avery’s mind and sets her on a journey to uncover her family’s long-hidden past.

The story of the Foss children living in the shantyboat captured my attention right from the start and the children captured my heart. Never having lived near water, learning about their life on the river and the river community was interesting and enjoyable. Ms. Wingate painted pictures in my mind of the Foss family, their neighbors, and their life. The story line of Rill, her parents, and siblings held me captive throughout the book as my heart ached for a happy ending for them.

Avery’s story, on the other hand, took me a while to get caught up in. At first I considered skipping the chapters about Avery to remain immersed in the story of Rill and her siblings, but I didn’t want to miss out on any of the connections between the two stories, so I continued to read about Avery as well. After about the third chapter about Avery, I finally began to be more interested in Avery’s life as well, and so continued to read, both to find out what would happen to Rill and her siblings, as well as how they were connected to Avery’s family.

Before We Were Yours was a slower read for me because it was very different than what I normally read, but it was written in a way that, even though it was slower, I didn’t want to abandon it. I was both appalled and fascinated by the true history of the story and so thankful that orphanages like the Tennessee Children’s Home Society are no longer allowed to function in the United States today. As someone who loves history and loves to learn, I found this book definitely worth reading.

If you are interested in history and enjoy learning about different time periods and the lives of people in those times, I recommend Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, and if you are like me, it will make you laugh and cry, and Rill and her siblings will find a permanent place in your heart.

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Book Review

I’ve been wanting to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows since I saw a lot of people raving about it on Facebook last year. I finally picked up a copy at a used book sale.

I was surprised to find that it was written as letters between characters, and that made it a bit difficult in the beginning because I had to keep flipping back pages to see who was writing to whom. However, it didn’t take long to acclimate myself and get so involved in the characters’ lives that I no longer found this a problem.

I enjoyed that the main character was a writer whose first book had been a bestseller and she wasn’t sure what to write next — what could be as well received. Then in January 1946, she, Juliet Ashton, receives a letter from a stranger, who happens to be the founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Here begins a journey through letters that eventually leads Juliet to visit the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society because, through the letters, she feels as though these people have become friends.

It was fascinating how the authors developed the characters and their relationships to one another, mostly through letters. The time of the novel follows World War II and includes historical facts and information.

I fell in love with the characters and got caught up in their lives and felt their feelings. It made me want to meet the members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and attend at least one of their meetings.

My only negative comment in regard to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is that the authors chose to reveal that one of the characters is a homosexual in a conversation with someone the homosexual character barely knows, and, at that period in history, I find it highly unlikely that someone would openly discuss sexuality, especially homosexuality. I also found it unnecessary to the story. As a matter of fact, it was barely mentioned twice and really served no purpose.

All in all, I enjoyed the story. It kept me turning pages and I was sad when it came to an end. It was like saying goodbye to some good friends. It was unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and I do recommend it. I have not seen the movie, but now that I’ve read the book, I do want to see it. (I always prefer to read the book first.)

I was sad to find that the story was created by Mary Ann Shaffer and that she became quite ill before the book was completed. Therefore, her niece, Annie Barrows, finished the novel and its publication. Mary Ann Shaffer passed away before the book was published.

Book Review: Caledonia by Sherry V. Ostroff

Caledonia by [Ostroff, Sherry V.]

Caledonia is Sherry V. Ostroff’s historical fiction debut novel. It’s a novel that simultaneously tells the story of Anna, a character living in Scotland and traveling during 1696, and Hanna, a character living in the United States in 2005. The two characters have a connection to one another. The similarities of their names was an unwise choice, in my opinion.

While Anna’s story is full of hardships and struggles, Hanna’s story is full of adventure and research to find out how she and Anna are connected. Both story lines include a love story.

I found that I was much more drawn to Anna’s story as well as to Anna and Alain who were the main characters of her story. I felt that Ms. Ostroff did a much better job of developing the characters in this story, and it was obvious that Ms. Ostroff did her research to tell the tale of Anna, Alain, and Caledonia. Ms. Ostroff did an excellent job of writing an interesting plot in this story line–a plot that kept me turning pages and wanting to know what was going to happen next.

I found the story of Hanna and Alec to be less developed and less interesting as it almost entirely revolved around Hanna searching for the connection between her and Anna. She spent a lot of time reading a journal and researching things she found in the journal, as well as the history of a candlestick. Therefore this story line did not hold my interest as much, and I wasn’t as invested in the lives of Hanna and Alec. I was, however, invested in the character of Hanna’s grandmother, whom I believe Ms. Ostroff did a good job of developing. As a matter of fact, one of the chapters about Hanna’s life ended with a cliffhanger in regard to her grandmother, and though the next chapter was about Anna, I bypassed it long enough to read the first scene of the next chapter that was about Hanna to find out about her grandmother, then I flipped back to read the chapter on Anna.

Overall I felt that the story was unbalanced because there was so much focus on Anna’s story and much less on Hanna’s story. I learned so much about Anna and her personality and life that she was very real to me. I loved and cared about her. I felt much less interest in Hanna and very little connection to her. I never came to love or care for her as I did for Anna throughout this story.

I was a little disappointed at the end of the story. I felt that certain things were unfinished. Then I read that there will be a sequel to Caledonia. The first chapter of On the Edge of a Precipice is included at the end of Caledonia, and I couldn’t help but wonder how Ms. Ostroff will write an effective sequel, as it seems to me that there’s not much left for her to tell of Anna’s story because she did such a thorough job of covering the historical story line in Caledonia. However, I will be looking for the sequel to see what else I can learn about Anna and further Scottish history.

For those of you who choose to read clean fiction, I will say that there are some mildly explicit sexual scenes in this book. There are also a few places where profanity is used.

The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck

In the past couple years, I’ve heard about a new style of historical fiction stories. The authors weave an historical fiction story and a contemporary fiction story and put them in the same book, and there’s something that connects the historical with the contemporary. The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck is one of those stories and it is the first story like it that I have read.

The historical story follows the life of a young woman named, Birdie, who is from a prominent American family during the Gilded Age. She is a free-thinking independent woman, but her parents try to force her to marry a man she doesn’t love, so that the two will be even more wealthy, and put Birdie at the height of society. Her mother is much more adamant about it than her father. However, Birdie wants to marry for love, and she wants to write stories.

The contemporary story follows the life of a young woman who wrote a book in the midst of her grief over the death of her father, and it quickly becomes a New York Times Bestseller. Therefore, Tenley is pressured to write another one, but she is paralyzed by writer’s block and struggles with her emotions and who she really is. Then her mother, who deserted her twenty years ago, calls and announces she has cancer and needs Tenley to come to Florida to take care of her. However, the man Tenley has been involved with gives her an engagement ring and asks her to marry him, and he invites her to go to Paris to write.

The lives of both women are so different, yet they are connected by several threads.

I found this book impossible to put down. Last night I stayed up an hour and a half later than I usually do because I just had to finish it. I always say that a book that can make me laugh and cry is on my list of “best books”, and this one struck both of those chords within me, and there was one tremendous surprise twist in the story that I never suspected that made me laugh and cry tears of joy!

Because I, too, am a writer, I could relate to both the women in this story, and I continually cheered them on throughout the book.  The other characters also evoked strong thoughts and/or emotions within me and I either, cheered for them or wished for them to go away.

Not only was this an incredible pair of stories woven together, it was also an incredible story of loss, hurt, guilt, pain, hope, healing, and love. Birdie, Eli, Tenley, Jonas, and even Alfonse, Rose, Blanche, and Holt will live on in my memory and heart for a long time to come. This book has endeared itself to me. It is the kind of book I LOVE to talk about with friends who have also read it, and it is a book I will highly recommend to anyone who loves a wonderfully, skillfully told story that includes all of the things I’ve listed above.

The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck gets five stars from me.

I also have to say it is the first and only book that I have ever read by Rachel Hauck, but I will definitely be looking for more.

He Knows The Way by Idella Borntrager Otto

He Knows The Way by Idella Borntrager Otto is Ms. Otto’s debut novel.

Back Cover Blurb:

Ellen, a young northern Mennonite nurse is transplanted into the chaos of Mississippi’s church bombings and cross burning. When danger from the Ku Klux Klan lurks, the scripture text “He knows the way that I take and when He has tested me I will come forth as gold” nibbles at her mind like a broken record. She searches for a sense of direction.

Lord, did I misread your leading to serve you in Mississippi? I don’t need to be gold. Silver or pewter would be just fine. In the midst of racial violence, Ellen re-examines her peace-loving faith while trying to unscramble her feelings which vacillate between a handsome Yankee and her southern pastor’s engaging son.

My Review:

He Knows The Way grabbed my attention from the start with a scene of heart-pounding danger — Ellen arriving to do a job as men with guns block her path. She is alone. She is in Mississippi during racial tensions in the 1960s.

More danger crops up as the Ku Klux Klan burns a cross on the lawn of somewhere Ellen has been ministering to someone preventing Ellen from continuing in this ministry with a woman she has become very fond of.

Ellen, a young northern Mennonite nurse, struggles with the attitudes of people in the south who look down on those who are different and don’t want to treat them as human beings. In one situation, Ellen shows great courage and breaks a southern segregation rule, then fears she will lose her job for doing so.

She is encouraged to go to a school in Virginia to get her B.S.N. and apply for a nursing director position. She goes off to school where she meets a young man, and the two begin spending quite a bit of time together.

Then Ellen goes home for a school break and meets her southern pastor’s son and spends time with him.

She returns to school in Virginia, confused with tangled feelings. She prays the Lord would direct her and show her which young man is the one she might one day marry.

Between the southern tensions and the struggle to make a decision on a young man, this story kept me turning page after page. I was rooting for one particular young man, but eventually liked both men so much that I was confused. I had to keep turning pages to see how the story would clear up both Ellen’s and my confusion about which young man was right for her.

There was one place in the story where I was jolted out of the story for a chapter or two because Ellen was suddenly missing from a chapter or two. I was suddenly reading about a young man and another girl. Things soon became clear, when Ellen returned to the story and eventually met this young man.

All in all, I thought this story was very well written, it captured and held my attention, and I had to keep reading to see whom Ellen would spend her life with. Not only was it a decision as to who she would marry, but where the Lord wanted her to minister — foreign missions or missions in her own country.

I certainly hope Idella Borntrager Otto will be producing more books because I definitely look forward to reading more from her.

In the Shadow of Your Wings by J.P. Robinson

Another great historical story from J.P. Robinson! In the Shadow of Your Wings moves between characters in Germany and Great Britain during war time. Leila Durand is  a German spy with a troubled past who falls in love with Malcom, the son of Thomas Steele, a British icon, whose home she is to infiltrate. She struggles between her love for Germany and her love for an enemy of Germany, and trouble seems to follow her wherever she goes.

Eleanor Thompson is a woman of faith, but her faith is pushed to its very limits when her infant daughter is killed in a German air raid after her husband has gone off to fight in the war. However, Eleanor doesn’t give up on life as she remains hopeful to reunite with her husband when the war is over, but he doesn’t answer any of her letters. As she sees the horrors of war, she begins to lose hope, yet stubbornly clings to her faith.

J.P. Robinson weaves a tale of intrigue and history as these characters’ lives intertwine in unexpected ways. There is also a German family that takes center stage in some chapters. This book shows the heartbreak of war and the struggle for faith. It is my favorite of  Mr. Robinson’s book so far.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction that includes intrigue and suspense.

 

Bride Tree by J.P. Robinson

Bride Tree (Secrets of Versailles Book 2) by [Robinson, JP]

Bride Tree “Secrets of Versailles” Book II by J.P. Robinson is an epic tale of Queen Marie-Antoinette during 1789, when France is reeling from a civil war between its social classes.

This is the second book in the “Secrets of Versailles” series by J.P. Robinson. The first was Twice Born. You can read my review of Twice Born here.

Bride Tree is a story filled with French history, action, romance, betrayal, suspense, and allegory. Characters stretch across the social classes. Some I hated, some I loved, and some I had mixed feelings for. I identified with some of the characters, found it hard to understand others, and pitied others. I cheered for some of the characters. I laughed and cried. To me, that is the mark of a great story — it grabbed my emotions and touched my heart. The characters of Bride Tree will forever remain dear to my heart.

I also love the cover of this book. I find it beautiful and eye-catching.

I highly recommend Bride Tree to adults who love to read historical stories, especially epic accounts. I recommend Bride Tree to adults who like to be emotionally gripped by a book and who enjoy a book that keeps you turning pages — a book you just can’t put down.

This book may also be appropriate for some young adults, but, a word of caution: this book contains some graphic violence and some sexual scenes and innuendo.

 

Friends and Enemies by Terri Wangard

Friends and Enemies is the first book in the Promise for Tomorrow series by Terri Wangard.

The story begins in 1943 and moves through 1944 and touches a bit of 1945. Heidi Wetzel lives in war-torn Germany. She moves to a rural farm to help care for evacuated children and has never been a supporter of National Socialism. She takes pleasure in passive resistance, but must exercise caution around neighbors who delight in reporting to the Gestapo.

Cadet Paul Braedel trains for the U.S. Army Air Force. As a navigator, he is sent to England with a crew that will fly a B-17.

Both Heidi and Paul experience loss during this difficult time in world history. Then Paul finds himself alone in Germany and he hears a gentle whisper, “Find Heidi”. Heidi had lived in America during her high school days and had known Paul during that time, but now he’s an enemy. How much will she risk to help him?

This story drew me in right from the beginning. I love history, especially when it is woven together with wonderful fictional characters. That brings history to life and implants it in my brain much deeper and stronger than any dry history textbook ever has. Friends and Enemies is a 527 page book, but it kept me turning pages and in just one week, I completed reading it.

I came to care deeply about both Heidi and Paul throughout the story and I felt their fears, shared their laughter and their tears in the experiences of life during war; war that touches every aspect of your life. Heidi and Paul will live in my memory for a long time.

Friends and Enemies was very well written and though war can never be without violence, pain and sorrow, Terri Wangard did an excellent job keeping the violence to a bare minimum. The story also taught lessons about what it’s like to live with war right in your own backyard.

I look forward to reading No Neutral Ground (Book Two) and Soar Like Eagles (Book Three) in the series.

If you enjoy reading historical fiction, I encourage you to pick up Friends and Enemies by Terri Wangard. You won’t be disappointed.

Flash Fiction Friday: The Thief of Westhaven

As he walked through the woods, he heard leaves crunching up ahead. He creeped from tree to tree wary of what may lie ahead. As he slipped up behind the large trunk of an old oak tree he saw her, a woman of exquisite beauty.  Her auburn hair appeared to be blazing with the sun’s rays shining on it. Her lips,  red and moist, touted an invitation to a kiss. Her large eyes sparkled in the unusual color of violet and her complexion, a flawless peaches and cream. She paced back and forth wringing her hands. She was dressed in tan leggings and a dark green tunic with a scalloped bottom.  Tied to a cord around her waist hung a lumpy, brown bag that jingled at each of her steps. A bow lay on the ground near her feet, and slung over her shoulder, a quiver of arrows.

He decided on a cautious approach to offer assistance,  but before he shifted from his position a thundering noise came through the trees to his left and a great, sleek, black stallion trotted to the woman.

“Oh, you’re here! I feared you had been killed.” She wrapped her arms about its neck and pressed her face against its jaw as the horse nuzzled her neck with its lips.

“We must get out of here.” She seized her bow, grabbed hold of the stallion’s long, flowing mane and heaved herself upon its back, and as he stood mesmerized at the sight, beauty fled from his undisclosed presence.

A knowing grin slid across his face. No one would believe that the thief of Westhaven was a beautiful woman.

A Great Research Resource

When you write historical fiction, there is a need to do some research:  research on the time period, the clothes people wore and the foods they ate during that time period, the cost of things during that time period, occupations of that time period, the way people spoke/words that were and weren’t used and more.  Also, if your story is set in what was a real place in that time period, you need to know what that place was like, what the weather was like, what the land and buildings looked like.

In addition to time and place, you may choose to have one of your characters working a job you are unfamiliar with or that is no longer an occupation in today’s world or that requires them to work with tools or animals you are unfamiliar with.  These things will then need to be researched also.

Research is time consuming, but it can be quite fun.  You will learn interesting things that you may find fascinating.  You may even find them leading you to research something else as another idea for something to include in your story may arise.

Being something between a plotter and a pantser, when I was in the beginning stages of my novel, I researched what I felt I needed to have accurate information about; mostly setting — place and time period.  I also researched names to be sure my character’s didn’t have names that couldn’t possibly have been used in the time period.  I had a good idea of what people wore but I still did some research to be sure, but I didn’t spend as much time on this as I did on the setting components.  I researched a couple of occupations, one a lot more than the others.

Okay, you might think, but where did you look for the information you needed?  Well, I did a lot of research online.  The internet is a wealth of information, as long as you are careful and check that the websites and/or blogs you get your information from are accurate and legitimate.  I never go to Wikipedia without checking other places to be sure the information lines up, and I rarely use Wikipedia.

One great source for historical research are the websites of museums.  In addition, you may want to call the museum and ask if they have any information they would be willing to send to you through snailmail.  I recently did this and was surprised at how easy it was.  I thought I may have to pay a fee, at least to cover postage and handling, but the lady I spoke with was willing to gather information and send two packets to me.  I was so excited!  I can’t wait for these packets to arrive.  I check my mailbox everyday, Monday through Saturday.  It is is currently about a week and a half and I’m still eagerly awaiting my packets.

Other great resources:  if your story’s time period isn’t too far in the past, older folk who lived during that time love to share memories, books (biographies, diaries and journals or logbooks written by someone who lived in your time period) are still a great resource, speaking with an historian who specializes in your story’s time period, and old newspapers or newspaper archives.  Of course, if your story’s setting — place, isn’t too far away and it’s feasible for you to go there, visiting the actual place and checking out the museums and historical tourist spots is a great resource that really gives you a visual and makes your story’s place come to life.

Do you write historical fiction?  What is your favorite research resource?