(Review) Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell

Publisher and Publication Date: Alfred A. Knopf. 2020.
Genre: Historical fiction. Women and literature. Shakespeare.
Pages: 321.
Source: Borrowed library eBook copy.
Audience: Historical fiction readers.
Rating: Very good.

Amazon link

Hamnet is the story of Shakespeare’s family life. His life at home growing up, his early relationship with Agnes, marriage, children, and his departure away from family and to London.
The center of the story is the plague infiltrating the family home and its outcome of despair.

My Thoughts:
I originally was drawn to the book because of the front cover; and secondly because of the specific people and themes in the story.

Some examples of themes are ambition, loyalty, courage, death, honesty, love, and perseverance.

What I found interesting and brilliant is Shakespeare is not named perse. He is a larger than life historical figure who is not the hero of this story.
He is a husband and family man. Then, he is a man who left his family to follow a dream to London leaving his family behind.
I feel it is his wife, Agnes, who is the stand-out character in the story. She is an unusual woman because she is resilient and independent during an era when women were dependent on men. She has a unique gift. She encouraged and supported her husband to follow his dream. At least until the unspeakable happened.
The story has dual time periods. Reflections are made to the past to share the courting of Agnes and Shakespeare. It shares the problems in Shakespeare’s childhood home. It shares the births of their children. The present time period is the plague and its impact on the children, family unity, and marriage.
I love the structure of the story. Its form and shape in how it is told. Instead of the focus on Shakespeare (the expected), it is his wife and family who has the spotlight. Shakespeare is not even named.
Hamnet is the story of how people grieve. Different forms of grief are shown. In other words, different aspects of how people grieve and what they do to avoid grieving is displayed.

(Review) The Historians by Cecelia Ekbäck

Publisher and Publication Date: HarperCollins Publishers. 2021.
Genre: World War II. Historical fiction. Spy. Espionage. Women and literature.
Pages: 464.
Source: I received a complimentary uncorrected eBook copy from NetGalley, I was not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of war/spy/espionage stories.
Rating: Good.

Amazon link
I don’t know the release date for the eBook.
The audiobook releases December 8, 2020.
The paperback releases January 12, 2021.

The year is 1943.
World War II.
The Scandinavian countries are Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. Some lists omit Finland. Some lists add Iceland.
In 1940, Norway became occupied by Germany. Sweden is neutral, but Germany wants Sweden’s rich iron ore located in the north. Finland fought with both Germany and the Soviet Union. Denmark was neutral during the early part of the war.
When Laura Dahlgren found out her best friend Britta Hallberg had died, she began investigating the circumstances of her death despite her father telling her to stop.
At one time, Laura and Britta along with three young men had been college students and close friends. Laura tries to bring together the original group of friends to find out what happened to Britta.
During the investigation, Laura is led to Lapland (northern Finland) where the local people are disappearing.

My Thoughts:
I’ve gone back and forth on whether to give this book a good or very good rating. I’m not usually a half-star reviewer, but technically this book is 3 1/2 stars.
What I love most about the story is the location. I’ve since bought 3 Scandinavian historical fiction books. These books are Gunnar’s Daughter by Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavrandsdatter by Sigrid Undset (3 books or volumes in this edition), and The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker.
A 2nd reason I love this story is the time period-World War II.
A 3rd reason I love this story is it taught me about a period in history and a country I knew little about.
What tipped the review to 3 and 1/2 stars is I feel it took too long to make it where the book came together in a form I enjoyed reading.
A 2nd point is I don’t understand the heightened affection for Britta. Britta is characterized as beloved (several times) and even idolized by Laura. Is there a background story I missed?
I also noticed the group of 5 friends had overlapping relationships where they became more than just friends. This is another background story that is not developed.
The relationship between Laura and her father is complex. Their conflict and the themes going along with it could make an excellent standalone story.
My last points made the story feel undeveloped and distracting.

(Review) The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Publisher and Publication Date: WaterBrook Press. September 15, 2020.
Genre: Historical fiction. Christian fiction.
Pages: 368.
Source: I received a complimentary eBook NetGalley copy, I was not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Reader’s of Christian fiction.
Rating: Okay.

Amazon link

1936. The Great Depression.
Addie Cowherd is a college student getting ready for final exams. She is summoned to the school office and is subsequently expelled for lack of funds. Addie is shocked her parents have not paid tuition. She returns home to find out her father lost his job and their home. Addie’s life has abruptly changed.
Addie takes a job with the WPA program delivering library books to the rural people of Boone’s Hollow, Kentucky.
Emmett Tharp has just graduated from college. He returns home to Boone’s Hollow and is unable to find a job with his degree. He first works in a coal mine. He then is able to work for the WPA program as a librarian.

My Thoughts:
It isn’t that I don’t like this story. I do. But not enough to give it a good rating.

I’ve written this statement before and I probably will again. Sometimes secondary characters are more interesting to me than the main characters. I want to know more about the secondary character. I want that person to be further developed. To be fleshed out and breathing. The secondary character in this story is a young woman named Bettina Webber. Bettina was born and raised in this hollow. She has her “cap” set on marrying Emmett. Her mother died. She doesn’t have siblings. She has an abusive father. She is lucky to have a good job as a rider on horseback delivering library books to her people. Now, my question is does Bettina want to marry Emmett because she feels he is her savior from her “world?” Possibly. He is a person who is safe and secure. Does the idea of marrying Emmett give her hope? Does the idea of marrying Emmett give her mind somewhere to go besides the stark reality of her own life? All these are interesting questions for further development.
Bettina is the person who is in trouble. She is the person who desperately needs help. She is the person who is in a dire situation.
Whereas, Addie Cowherd has a college background. She has supportive parents. She has experience working in a library. She has the promise of life beyond the hollow and Kentucky.
While reading the story I felt an investment in Bettina and not so much Addie.
Emmett seems more like a bookend to hold up a part of the story. To me he is expendable.
One of the things I love about this story is the environment of the hollow. I love the descriptions of the land and the town. I love the culture of the people. I love the added background story of Nanny Fay. The people don’t understand her. When people don’t understand something or someone they can turn it into fear. This too is an idea to be explored in-depth.

The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow is Christian fiction. Some of the themes are faith and trust in God, being kind to people who are not kind, bravery, courage, and perseverance.

To read more about the WPA program: History.com.