[Review] Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen: A Novel of Victorian Cookery and Friendship by Annabel Abbs

Publisher and Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks. October 26, 2021.  
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 400.
Format: E-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book from NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction.
Rating: Good to very good.

Link @ Amazon.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Annabel Abbs’s Goodreads author page.

Summary:

Victorian time period. 1837. England.

A heavy responsibility and burden falls on Eliza Acton. Her father has left the family and country to escape his debt. Her mother takes control and plans a marriage prospect for Eliza. Eliza wants to write poetry. And, she enjoys a new endeavor in learning to cook.

Ann Kirby is a young woman who is employed in the Acton home. Ann and Eliza create interesting dishes in the kitchen. They work together to create a cookery book.

My Thoughts:

Both women take turns being the narrator. I read the word “I” often. “I must”, “I stand”, “I loathe”, I want to be”, “I rise, and dress myself.” This is my least favorite form of writing in a story. I don’t like this point of view. Further, I don’t want to be told the minutiae details of the characters. Those two reasons are the only tidbits I dislike.

What I like about Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen:

1. I love cooking and baking. I love recipes and cookbooks.
2. I love the story taking on a different type of love: friendship. If you read other reviews I write, you will remember I enjoy reading about other types of relationships and not just romantic type love.
3. Eliza’s mother is selfish and annoying. She causes strong internal and external conflicts in the story. Eliza does not have a loving bond with her mother. Her mother is not a person she can depend on to have the best intentions for Eliza. Her mother is about her own life and their financial situation. Her mother is a person who waits for others “to do something for her.”
4. I love the plot. And I love the form or structure of the story that advances towards the plot’s conclusion.
5. Eliza and Ann are of different ages. They are from different socio-economic backgrounds. They are two people who shouldn’t be friends. Yet, a love of a common interest creates and bonds their precious friendship.
6. The story is mainly chronological. At the start of the story, there is a future date where the character remembers the past and how the events brought about the gift of today.
7. I love Eliza’s bold personality. She draws a line in the sand so to speak. She will tolerate only so much and then that’s it! She speaks plain. I love this in a personality.
8. I love Ann’s kind personality. She has a sad background with what has happened to her mother. In this era people who had a mental illness were not taken care of well. They were often abused. They were often cast aside and forgotten. Ann has not forgotten her mother. She does not understand all the details with her mother’s illness, but she loves her. Ann is kind. I wish there had been more about this in the storyline. I understand there is only so much room in a book for the whole of a story, but I think about the importance of this subject.

Themes in the story:

Friendship, cooking, perseverance, honesty, acceptance, kindness, sacrifice, hospitality, judgment, injustice, dreams, grief, charity, and tolerance.

[Review] Three Words for Goodbye by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Publisher and Publication Date: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. July 27, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 395 total pages with written material. I counted!
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Historical fiction readers. Readers who have an interest in World War II stories, travel, relationships, and romance.
Rating: Good.

Link @ Amazon.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Link @ Book Depository.

Author pages @ Goodreads.
Hazel Gaynor.
Heather Webb.

Summary:

1937. The story begins in New York state.

The matriarch of the story is Violet. She has cancer. She has one daughter, Celestine Sommers. Celestine is a widow with two daughters. The two daughters are Clara and Madeleine.

Clara and Madeleine are in their twenties. Their personalities are as different as night and day. Clara is an artist. Madeleine is a writer. Clara is engaged. Madeleine doesn’t want a relationship to tie her down.

Violet asks them to travel together to Europe and deliver three letters. Violet has arranged all travel plans. The sisters will travel to Paris, Venice, and Vienna.

The sisters do not like each other and they usually avoid one another. Traveling together for an extended trip causes immediate angst. Their grandmother assures them all will be okay. She has arranged everything.

My Thoughts:

I have mixed feelings about the story. Over-all I enjoyed it. Over-all I read the book in two days because I couldn’t stop reading it. However, there are some things about the story I don’t like.

What I like about Three Words for Goodbye:
1. The story is about two sisters who are polar in personality. Their differences create internal and external conflicts. Their differences create a background and current circumstance. Their differences bring added drama to the story. Their differences bring satire to the story and to the dialogue. Their differences bring a strong interest for me to keep reading.
2. Violet is a strong character. Even though she is in poor health, she is a strong and interesting character. She is unlike most females of her generation.
3. I love the travel itinerary. I love the cities they visit.
4. I love the strong descriptions of the three cities. Whether they travel by ship, train, or air ship, I am there. I too am traveling with them. Plus, Clara has an eye for art. Her perspective is as an artist. Madeleine is a writer. Her perspective is as a writer. Both of them bring their perspectives of what they see and experience.
5. There is a transformation of the sisters. In the beginning, each see their own viewpoint and feelings. As the story progresses, they begin to understand their way has been one-sided.
6. I love stories that share what the characters think. When a story only shares the dialogue that is audible to others that’s not enough for me. I want to know how they feel that is not expressed audibly. I want to know their fears, insecurities, hurts, doubts, and anxieties.

What I do not like about the story or what I found lacking:
1. I know who Celestine is (the name) but she is like a ghost in the story. I know Violet. I know Clara and Madeleine. I know their deceased father. I know their deceased grandfather. But what is Celestine like. I feel she should have been completely dropped from the story. Let her be dead like the father and grandfather. She is unneeded. Her name takes up space.
2. I read one reference to Madeleine smoking. I read a few statistics about smoking in the first half of the 20th century. From the 1920s to 1950s, 70% of men smoked. In the 1920s females who smoked were rare. But smoking became more common as advertisements encouraged smoking. My mother was born in 1926 and she did not smoke. Her mother was born in the early 1900s and she did not smoke. Both my grandfathers smoked. My point in all of this is a story in this time period should reflect people and their common habits. It should reflect a lifestyle similar to that period and to the people themselves. Several references are made to drinking alcohol and gambling, but why only one reference to smoking?
3. The story is predictable. It is predictable from the first page to the last page. The romances are predictable. The direction of the story period.
4. I had hoped to read more of an emphasis on what is going on in Europe pre-World War II.
5. The biggest love story is between the two sisters. I feel this should be the primary focus with the theme of love and relationships. After-all, there are different types of love; there are different levels of love.

Closing thoughts:
1. I’m happy to state this is not a dual time period story. The story moves chronologically in time.
2. Madeleine is presented as a female trying to create a career in a male dominated world. Let her remain single. Let her write her own story about the trip or Violet’s life. People do not have to have a romantic storyline. It is an additional point to read. People do not have to be in a romantic relationship for life to be complete and enjoyable. Be a breath of fresh air and let them be focused on the joy of career and friends.

Themes in the story:

Love, relationships, family saga, romance, travel, acceptance, kindness, circle of life, injustice, conformity, beauty, and greed.

(Review) Alligators And Me: My Life In Alabama 1968 by Molly Milner

 

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Publisher and Publication Date: Shoe Button Press. March 23, 2018.
Genre: Nonfiction. Memoir.
Pages: 272.
Source: I received a complimentary copy, but was not required to leave a positive review. The review copy is paperback and was provided by Molly Milner. The review is in cooperation with Book Marketing Expert.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon

I was born in 1964. I don’t remember the turbulent 1960s (expressed in this book) except through the news that came on in the afternoon at supper time, and the music and culture lived out in my older siblings. My eldest sister, born in 1949, remembers seeing water fountains that stated “for white” or “for colored.” As a little girl, she questioned this in her mind.  I grew up in a completely different culture. Mixed dating was frowned on, but I went to school with and played with people of all races. My children have grown up in a culture different than mine. And in future generations, I hope people no matter the color of their skin will live in acceptance and harmony.
The time period for this book is 1966-1969.
Molly Milner in her memoir, Alligators And Me, is the story of a Midwest newlywed couple who accepted the call to move south and pastor a church in Mobile, Alabama. Neither knew what the future held. Both had dreams and ideas about what they hoped to accomplish. Their hopes were a mix of naivete, courage, and determination.
The first theme is racism and segregation in the south. Alabama was a different place from Midwest thinking in regards to segregation of blacks. The book gave me a strong view of what it was like to live in a community of like-minded people who did not believe in equality. I want to clarify, there were white people who believed in the civil rights movement, but their group was small and docile in comparison to a larger group who were vigilant about the status quo of the South.
A secondary theme is the changing culture in regards to women. The idea of having a career outside the home is new in the 1960s. Women who married, and especially after having children, were expected to be homemakers and mothers. Most women did not work after having children. Married mothers who worked outside the home were looked at as suspicious. And don’t get me started on what people thought about divorced women, they were gossiped about and often ostracized.
The 1960s was a decade of radical change in culture and history: President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated, Martin Luther King was assassinated, the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the Peace Corp program started, a building distrust of government, and the women’s liberation movement.
A third theme in the book is Ed and Molly Milner make a commitment to be apart of the change in how people think and respond to African Americans in society. They wanted to be apart of the growing movement to bring about freedom and equality.
Milner is transparent about her thoughts, feelings, and behavior when her husband tells her they are moving. She was not in agreement. I wondered how on board she was about being a pastor’s wife? She had no idea about this new role, nor the big move. She had been wrapped up in love and in “I do.”
Ned had a commitment to liberal social causes. He’s drawn to helping and persevering for the civil rights movement, but less so with women’ rights. I add this later part, because he was not always understanding about Molly’s feelings. He was headstrong in wanting to help in social causes-the civil rights movement, and this was the key focus in his thinking.
The strength of Alligators and Me is Molly’s ability to take me to this time period. This is an important feature, because of the history involved, as a reader I have to “feel” the time and events.
I saw a transformation in Ned and Molly. What they experienced, and not always together, brought maturity. It is one thing to speak a commitment, it is quite another to follow through with the commitment.
A beautiful added storyline is their sweet dog, Tallulah. No matter what is going on in their lives, they had a beloved dog who loved and accepted them.
I recommend this book for anyone interested in the 1960s and the civil rights movement.

 

(Review) Secrets Of The Island by Linda Hughes

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02_Secrets of the Island

Publisher and Publication Date: Deeds. May 15, 2018.
Genre: Fiction.
Pages: 268.
Source: I received a complimentary copy, but was not required to leave a positive review. The review copy is paperback and provided from Linda Hughes. This review is apart of the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour.
Rating: Good.

Book Tour Landing Page

About the Author:
03_Linda Hughes

As a native Michigander, award-winning author Linda Hughes has been visiting Mackinac Island since she was a kid. She’s spent countless hours riding a bike around the shoreline, and perusing the library and church records to learn about island history. She’s built many a cairn, witnessed the Northern Lights on several occasions, and eaten more than her fair share of chocolate fudge. She’s a world traveler, having worked in thirteen countries and visited a couple dozen more, but Mackinac Island remains one of her favorite places.
Her writing honors come from the National Writers Association, Writer’s Digest, the American Screenwriters Association, Ippy (Independent Publishers), and Indie Book of the Day.
For more information, please visit Linda Hughes’ website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Summary: Provided.
Do you think you know your heritage? Think again. Dark secrets lurk below the surface of every family tree, as the Sullivan clan discovers in this story about living in the aftermath of generations of deceit.
When Red Cross nurse Harriet escapes the trauma of World War II and sequesters herself in her grandfather’s cottage on Mackinac Island, she has no inkling about her heritage. But as one shocking clue after another surface – disclosing lies, corruption, madness, and murder – she realizes her family isn’t what, or who, it seems. She’s not the first to hold unspeakable secrets in her soul.
Can she conquer her trials and tribulations, like some of them did? Or will she be defeated by life, like others?
Secrets of the Island, the second book in the Secrets trilogy, is a tale of romantic suspense that begs the question: what secrets are buried within your family tree?

My Thoughts:
Overall I liked this story. One problem early in the book did not feel right, it was too put together for the benefit of a storyline. A brother and sister and husband just happen to be placed together during World War II. It’s a dangerous and tragic encounter. But without this storyline another element of the story wouldn’t happen. However, it just didn’t feel real, but pasted. I kept reading past this event and enjoyed reading the rest of the book.
Harriet is a main character. She was a Red Cross nurse during World War II. I like her personality, courage, determination, independence, fearlessness, and strength.
Harriet’s twin is Harry. He is in the army. The two are close.
Bill Beaumont is Harriet’s husband who is also in the army. They are newlyweds.
Back at home in Michigan. Harriet uncovers the real story of her parents and ancestry. I loved reading about her work to reveal the truth of her family. This plot is a favorite of mine in the book.

 

 

(Review) Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

 

32075798Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Paperbacks. May 1, 2018.
Genre: Nonfiction. Memoir.
Pages: 288.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: Very Good.

Amazon

Summary:
J.D. Vance has written a memoir of his life as a 2nd generation removed from eastern Kentucky. He and his parents were born and raised in Ohio. His grandparents moved from Kentucky to Ohio post World War II in hopes of having a better life. The new life was made in the steel town of Middletown, Ohio. They brought with them the same culture and standards of the Appalachian people. It was Vance’s grandparents who raised him, primarily his Mamaw. She was a rough talking woman, strong-willed and determined, but she was the support system for Vance. Vance later joined the Marines. He graduated from Yale Law School. His memoir has been written in hopes of shedding light on the people of Kentucky’s Appalachian region.
The Afterword chapter is a summation of Vance’s final thoughts which include political ideas and hopes.

My Thoughts:
When I read a story about a person who wants to shed light on a particular people group- I keep an open mind. The author is showing what he believes to be true. And, this is the story of the life he has lived.
I’ve lived in Texas all my life. I was born and raised in Houston. I grew up middle class. Dad had a great job at an oil company. We lived in the same house all my growing up years. Mother was a homemaker. We attended the same neighborhood church all my life. I’m the youngest of 5 children. The next sibling in age to me is 10 years older. From the little bit of information I’ve given you, you’ve probably placed me in a particular box with a label. You may or may not be correct. I wanted to state my short bio to prove a point against Vance’s more revealing bio. His life does not represent all people who have the same type of background of people group he came from. And, no person knows what really goes on in a house except the people who live there. People reveal what they want us to know, even those people who are our best buds.

Back to the book review.

What I liked about the book:
1. The introduction is one of the best I’ve read. It is transparent and humble. Vance is straight forward about his family and reason for writing the book.
2. Appalachian stories are a favorite for me. This is a people group who I have a personal interest in. The post Civil War years is when my ancestors left the Appalachian states and moved to Texas. Another reason is I love their independent, prideful nature.
3. I felt a strong investment from the first page in Vance’s life. His early life through to adulthood, I enjoyed reading about the progress of education, life experiences, and career. I enjoyed reading his perspective of family, including the family left behind in Kentucky.
4. He had a special relationship with his grandparents. Despite their rough exterior they loved their grandchildren. This was endearing to me.
5. The author makes valid teaching points. For example: “…social class in America isn’t just about money.” Page 63.
6. Some of the things he was taught, I was taught by my parents too. “I don’t know those people. You never talk about family to some stranger.” Page 41. When I was a child my dad often said, “Annette, don’t be telling people our business.” I wanted to remark, “what people and what business?” I kept my mouth shut out of fear of getting my ears boxed.
7. Vance gave brief explanations of Appalachian terms. For example: a hollow is a valley or basin.
8. In the end chapters, Vance has reached the point in life where he is trying to make peace with life. He does not want to blame anyone. He wants to have sympathy for them and process his past with wisdom.

What I did not like about the book:
1. I found more parallels in his Protestant hillbilly family and my Catholic 2nd generation Eastern European in-law’s. I make this statement, because his upbringing is not just a hillbilly thing. This type of lifestyle is in every social class, religion, and people group. I’ve known people who are educated with high paying careers who live in a violent abusive family or they are the abuser. And addictions like drugs and alcohol plague many families. I do believe education, especially higher education, helps people move beyond poverty and to independence. But education does not eradicate abusive homes and addictions. And further, sometimes people who make 6 figures cannot manage their money. They are still poor.
2. The Marines gave Vance a different perspective. He left that world he was living in and moved to a different atmosphere. He met different people. He had new life experiences. Vance didn’t show this experience in detail as I wanted him to.
3. The book has been earmarked as a political statement. I’ve read reviews on the book, and not all reviewers agree it made the big statement some believe it did. Readers read what they want to, and a big part of reading a book is what we bring to the table, our own life experiences and memories. Books are personal, and Hillbilly Elegy is a personal story. For me, I latched on to the family saga. The good and sad memories of Vance. His grandparents and parents.

I work as a tutor for elementary age children. I help them learn to read. The school is in a low income neighborhood. I have learned so much in working with these kids. The biggest thing I’ve learned is the transparency of the kids. They are brutally honest about their home lives. Most of them live in single parent homes. They live with their mothers. They have grandparents who are active in their lives.
Some examples of stories I hear:
“My mom won’t go to bed and turn off the television so I can sleep.”
“People are coming and going out of my house all day and night.”
“My mom was fighting with her boyfriend. She has a new friend now.”
“I’ve never heard of a library.”
“We left Alabama, because there were people trying to kill my brother.”
“I don’t have any socks.”
“I’m late to school everyday, because my mom oversleeps.”
“I vomited at school yesterday, but my mom wouldn’t come get me.”
“We don’t have a home.”
“My mom said she hates my dad and wishes he were dead.”

What is the answer?
These children are our future.