What’s Ashley Reading?: A True Account

A True Account by Katherine Howe

First line: I don’t know what made me determined to go to the hanging.

Summary: Hannah Masury has spent her life working along the Boston harbor, seeing the ships and crew coming and going each day. When she needs to flee the city she decides to disguise herself as a cabin boy and stows away on a pirate ship, captained by Ned Low. As she chooses her own destiny she knows that there could be rewards as well as danger lurking in her future.

In 1930, Marian Beresford is given a manuscript by one of her students which leads them on the hunt for Hannah Masury’s buried treasure. Marian, a professor, believes that this mystery will help her career if she is able to authenticate the document and discover the history that has been left for them in the beaches of the Caribbean.

My Thoughts: Like Howe’s other books, this a dual narrative spanning centuries. She does this very well and it makes for an interesting and enjoyable story. As I was traveling to the Caribbean at the time, this felt like a good book to listen to as we prepared for our trip.

I have been fascinated with pirates ever since the Pirates of the Caribbean movie came out years ago. And then with the show Black Sails I really got hooked on the real life pirates who actually sailed the seas. It seems like such a crazy life but one that could be very lucrative.

Hannah is a tough girl who is able to deceive many of the men who she sails with. Marian is struggling with her career and is sucked into the thrill of adventure. I definitely enjoyed the parts with Hannah much more than Marian. Marian was more of a supporting character who never seemed too developed while Hannah was the star with a full life and more of a personality.

The end has a big twist which I did not see coming and then another twist that seems to shift the other twist completely out of whack. It was an interesting ending to the story but this was definitely not my favorite of the author’s books.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Aviator’s Wife

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

First line: He is flying.

Summary: When Anne Morrow travels to Mexico City to visit her family she meets the national hero, Charles Lindbergh. Just months before Charles had flown across the Atlantic, securing his place in world history. Awed by his fame and talent of flying, she is quickly drawn to him. Together they become America’s golden couple. Anne joins Charles in his flights and even becomes the first female glider pilot. But tragedy strikes after a few years when their first child is kidnapped. The crime tears brings an end to the fairy tale romance. As Anne tries to navigate the world after the loss of her son she finds that she is stronger than she ever thought possible.

My Thoughts: I feel that every person has heard the legendary name of Charles Lindbergh. Either because of his daring flight across the Atlantic or the kidnapping of his first son. I remember learning about him in history classes throughout my school years. He is portrayed as a hero. And for parts of his life it appears that he is but there were also some darker sides that Melanie Benjamin covers in this story.

As with many historical fiction novels I spend lots of time looking up the characters and events while reading. I had no idea about his links with Nazi Germany, extramarital affairs and rather controlling personality. It appears that people at the time were aware of some of these controversial aspects but it was not covered in my history classes. Another great reason to pick up historical fiction!

But I found Anne to be just as fascinating if not more. She came from a prominent family, had a good education and achieved many feats during her lifetime. Anne even lived into my lifetime, only dying in 2001 at the age of 94. She saw many changes to the world around her and even made history herself. I am glad I finally got around to reading her story. I highly recommend it to fans of women’s history.

Monica’s Musings: How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water

How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz

“She knew I had to cry until I undrown from the inside.”
― Angie Cruz, How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water

Summary: 

Cara Romero thought she would work at the factory of little lamps for the rest of her life. But when, in her mid-50s, she loses her job in the Great Recession, she is forced back into the job market for the first time in decades. Set up with a job counselor, Cara instead begins to narrate the story of her life. Over the course of twelve sessions, Cara recounts her tempestuous love affairs, her alternately biting and loving relationships with her neighbor Lulu and her sister Angela, her struggles with debt, gentrification, and loss, and, eventually, what really happened between her and her estranged son, Fernando. As Cara confronts her darkest secrets and regrets, we see a woman buffeted by life but still full of fight.

My Thoughts: 

I listened to this as an audiobook, and the narrator did a great job of making Cara feel real. Cara’s story is narrated in the first person, but other details are shared through the paperwork she files through the course of the program, which makes for some interesting reading! Beautifully–written and thought-provoking, with humor, a whole lot of heart, and an endearing protagonist whose story will make you smile, sob, laugh out loud, and cheer her on. This is a short but impactful and memorable read that I would definitely recommend.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Lady Clementine

Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict

First line: I always feel different.

Summary: Clementine Churchill was the wife of statesman, Winston Churchill. Growing up in a lower class of the aristocracy she was not sure where her life would go until she met Winston. With the marriage brought advancement but also many challenges. Alongside him during two world wars she helped strengthen his political career as well as using her status to help the English people.

My Thoughts: When I was younger I read a lot about World War II but I never remember reading anything or even knowing about Clementine Churchill. And I knew as soon as I saw that Marie Benedict was writing a book about her that I needed to read it. Benedict does a great job of finding women in history that have been forgotten or overshadowed by their male counterparts and bringing them back to the spotlight of the general public.

Clementine Churchill
with Eleanor Roosevelt.

I loved seeing how much Clementine did for Winston. He may never have reached the heights of Prime Minister without her help and support. And much like the Queen Mother during the Second World War, she helped the people of London during the Blitz and visited the people most affected by the bombings. She sounds like a very strong woman who cared about her family and the English people but has been forgotten. Glad that now she can be known by more through this story.

FYI: Read Marie Benedict’s other works to learn more about women like Clementine and their accomplisments.

Monica’s Musings: My Fine Fellow

My Fine Fellow by Jennieke Cohen

“He’d always thought that food was a great equalizer, for whatever someone’s creed or race or religion, every person had to eat to survive.”- Jennieke Cohen, My Fine Fellow

Summary:

It is 1830s England, and culinarians of utmost respect, consult with society’s elite to create gorgeous food and confections. They are the crème de la crème of high society.

Helena is top of her class at the Royal Academy and has a sharp demeanor and an even sharper palate. Penelope wants to show the value of non-European cuisine to all of England. Her peers may scorn her Filipina heritage, but with her flawless social graces and culinary talents, Penelope is set to prove them wrong. Elijah has nothing to his name but an excellent instinct for flavors. London merchants will not allow a Jewish boy to own a shop, but he knows with enough training, he can break into the highest of society.

When Penelope and Helena meet Elijah, a golden opportunity arises: to pull off a project never seen before and turn Elijah from a street vendor to a gentleman chef. But Elijah’s transformation will have a greater impact on this trio than they originally realize—and mayhem, unseemly faux pas, and a little romance will all be a part of the delicious recipe.

My Thoughts:

Food is a big part of the story, so do not read this book on an empty stomach. You will get hungry! I loved that Penelope was half Filipino, Elijah was Jewish, and that their backgrounds were a central and integral part of the story. The book explored the prejudices that both of them faced. The three main characters were all well-developed. I particularly liked seeing Helena’s character arc unfold and how her actions affected her friendships with Penelope and Elijah.

Since this is a gender-swapped retelling of the movie My Fair Lady, the story is a little predictable and straightforward. There are no big surprises. If you like reading about 1830s England, books about food or enjoyed the movie it is based on, I recommend checking this book out.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Marriage Portrait

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell

First line: Lucrezia is taking her seat at the long dining table, which is polished to a watery gleam and spread with dishes, inverted cups, a woven circlet of fir.

Summary: Lucrezia de’ Medici is the third daughter of the grand duke of Florence. She has always been considered a little different than her siblings. Her family has given her freedom but also the same learning as her brothers. After the death of her sister she is suddenly pushed into a betrothal with her sister’s fiancé, the duke of Ferrara. Even though she fears this marriage she is a dutiful daughter. At first things seem to be going well with her husband but as time passes without an heir she starts to worry that something sinister is brewing in the duke’s mind.

My Thoughts: This book was beautifully written. I love O’Farrell’s style. It is almost poetic in the way it flows. For some it may not be their style and seem rather slow but I found it perfect for the period and subject.

Very little is known about the events of Lucrezia’s life but O’Farrell does a wonderful job of filling out the story and the characters. The narrative flashes back and forth between her childhood and the time of her marriage. I found the scenes with her husband to be dark and sinister. She is worried he is trying to kill her but she continues to question her feelings. As a reader I could feel the tension as she tried to decide how to handle her precarious situation.

If you loved Hamnet then I believe you will find this one just as intriguing. It has the same feeling of dread approaching with the same lyrical writing. I would highly recommend it be savored with a glass of wine on a crisp fall day.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Violinist of Venice

The Violinist of Venice by Alyssa Palombo

First line: The gondola sliced silently through the dark water of the canal.

Summary: Adriana d’Amato has spent years of her life sequestered in her family’s palazzo in Venice. Ever since her mother died she has not been allowed to study the violin or music of any kind. But daringly she sneaks out of the palazzo to find the renowned violinist, Antonio Vivaldi, in the hopes of private lessons. When he agrees to her request she thinks that the only rule she is breaking is practicing violin until she starts to fall for her maestro.

My Thoughts: I finally got around to reading Palombo’s first book and the only one I haven’t read yet. It was just as beautiful as the rest of her works. She creates interesting storylines with fantastic historical characters. Venice nearly becomes a character of its own in this story. With its own charming traits such as Carnavale, the gondolas and the romance of an Italian city on the water, it is easy to get swept up in Adriana’s story.

canal in Venice (2006)

I visited Venice in 2006. Many of the places Adriana visits are vivid in my memory. Venice is a beautiful town filled with history and beauty.

Normally I do not read romance novels but this is a perfect mix between historical fiction and romance. I was frustrated with several of the choices made by Adriana but needing to know the outcomes kept me reading. As a reader I felt for her plight. Life for a wealthy merchant’s daughter could be easy but also had its challenges. I think many readers, myself included, believe that to live in these times would be wonderful. The gorgeous dresses, parties and life without much of the drama we have today. But historical fiction can do a great job of dulling these dreams when you see how women were treated or restricted in their lives. Palombo did a great job portraying this through Adriana’s life.

I know very little about Vivaldi, so this was a great introduction to the musical genius. Plus it also fulfilled a requirement for the Dia de los Muertos read-a-thon!

FYI: Some more adult scenes.

Cori recommends: The Paris Library

First line: Numbers floated round my head like stars.

Summary: This book is a fictional story based on true events that happened at the American Library in Paris during World War II. Odile, a young Parisian woman gets a job at the library before war comes to France. Lily is Odile’s neighbor in Montana. The story jumps between Lily in the 1980’s and Odile from 1939-1944.

My thoughts: I had no idea there was an American library in Paris, let alone that it had managed to remain open through the Nazi occupation of the city. I’m a sucker for books about books or libraries or readers, so this one came to me naturally. However, once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down.

What incredible stories are written about the circumstances of those who experienced the hardships of the war firsthand. The author did an amazing job of slowly peeling back Odile’s story. And Lily was crucial to that telling. I love Lily and Odile so much.

FYI: Be sure to read the author’s notes to see which of the characters were actual staff members at the library.

Find The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles in the library catalog here.

Linda’s Favorite Books: We Hope For Better Things

We Hope For Better Things by Erin Bartels

Summary: When Detroit Free Press reporter Elizabeth Balsam meets James Rich, his strange request – that she look up a relative she didn’t know she had in order to deliver an old camera and a box of photos – seems like it isn’t worth her time. But when she loses her job after a botched investigation, she suddenly finds herself with nothing but time. 

At her great-aunt’s 150-year-old farmhouse, Elizabeth uncovers a series of mysterious items, locked doors, and hidden graves. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding. And as Elizabeth soon discovers, the past is never as past as we might like to think. (from www.amazon.com)

Thoughts: I enjoy historical fiction and mysteries.  Traveling between decades can sometimes be confusing but the author very smoothly accomplishes this in the book.  I also enjoy when old items come to life in stories which makes for an exciting read! 

What’s Ashley Reading?: Katharine Parr, the Sixth Wife

Katharine Parr, the Sixth Wife by Alison Weir

First line: Katharine was five when death cast its black shadow over her life.

Summary: Katharine Parr, the sixth and final wife of King Henry VIII of England, grew up as a simple country gentry but she made several advantageous marriages. However, each husband died early leaving her a widow and childless. Then when she meets the handsome brother to the late queen, Jane Seymour, she believes she has found the love of her life.

But fate has different plans. Katharine catches the eye of the King of England. With the hopes of swaying the king towards the new faith, Katharine accepts his proposal. With her marriage comes the enmity of the Catholic faction at court. Bishop Gardiner and his men are determined to bring down Henry’s new queen.

My Thoughts: I liked this book. I liked how we got a look into Katharine’s early life. Many of the books about her center around her time as queen and afterwards but very little on her first two marriages. I enjoyed learning a little more about her time before the throne and how she became a strong proponent of the new religion, Protestantism.

Katharine is one of my least favorite queens. Her story is not very exciting and centers around religion a lot. She did much for the reformists in the court and even became the first woman to publish a book under her own name in English. It is quite an achievement. Alison Weir did a great job giving all the queens in her series a new life and bringing more of their stories to readers. I will be anticipating her next collection of books.

FYI: This is book six in the Six Tudor Queens series.