(Review) The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

Publisher and Publication Date: Berkley Books/Penguin Random House. February 2, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 384.
Format: NetGalley e-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book copy from NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Historical fiction readers. Readers of early 20th century California history.
Rating: Excellent.

To read more information about the book from the publisher: Berkley Books. At this link there is an audio sample.

Link @ Amazon

Link @ Barnes and Noble

Author Info:
The following link is Susan Meissner’s bio.
Website/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Pinterest

Links to read more information about the 1906, San Francisco earthquake.
History.com
USGS
Archives.gov-several photographs at this website
Wikipedia-don’t dismiss the write-up and photographs because it’s at Wikipedia


There are several videos of the earthquake destruction. I chose these two. The second shows San Francisco before the earthquake and afterwards.

Summary:

The story begins in 1905, San Francisco, California.

Sophie Whalen arrives in San Francisco and is immediately taken to the courthouse for a hasty marriage to Martin Hocking. She met and married him on the same day. They’d written letters to one another while she still lived in New York City. He wanted a mother for his young daughter, Kat. He wanted a wife without fanfare. He is a business man and travels often.
Sophie had not been in New York City long. She is from Northern Ireland. She left behind her mother. A brother lives in Canada.
Sophie’s heart goes out to Cat. Sophie’s days are spent caring for Cat and making the house a home. The relationship with Martin is chilly, strained, and with no affection.
Meanwhile, a young woman arrives at Sophie and Martin’s home. Her visit followed by the earthquake shake up the lives of everyone.

While reading The Nature of Fragile Things I am reminded of a quote by Maya Angelou.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

My Thoughts:

The Nature of Fragile Things is a heavy story. It is heavy with strong themes, it has a huge historical earthquake at its swirling center, and there is a mystery element. A book this heavy could cause gastric reflux, but it works, and it works well!

Themes in The Nature of Fragile Things: marriage, maternal health, courage, sacrifice, shame, ambition, obsession, bravery, complex trauma, death and dying, self-worth, abuse, betrayal, compassion, friendship, loyalty, parenting, society and culture standards, crime, and survival.

Several reasons why I love The Nature of Fragile Things:
1. Surprises. There are surprises about the characters I didn’t expect-I didn’t see coming.
2. Martin Hocking is sinister from the introduction. He is a character no one takes their eyes away from. I believe this is clever writing because it hides the possibility other characters are not who or what they claim to be.
3. The devastation of the 1906 earthquake and the fires afterwards are seen dramatically through the lens of Sophie. The descriptions and experiences brought additional tension and emotion to the story.
4. I have read (possibly) one other historical fiction on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. I wonder why? This is a fabulous history spot to write about people’s lives through fiction. I love the time period. I love the history of this book.
5. I love the character Sophie. She is imperfect. She is not described as a beautiful, gorgeous woman. So often in stories the female lead characters are beauty queens. Okay, I am being overly dramatic. Most people are just in the middle. Neither the most beautiful nor the ugliest. In my opinion, middle of the road and imperfect people are believable. When the characters are believable I can relate to them. And, I can become swept up in the story.


(Review) The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

Publisher and Publication Date: Ballantine Books/Penguin Random House. February 23, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction. WW2.
Pages: 416.
Format: NetGalley e-book copy.
Source: I received a complimentary NetGalley e-book copy. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction who like the WW2 era.
Rating: Excellent.

Link @ Amazon

Link @ Barnes and Noble

Summary:

Four women each want to win The Kitchen Front contest. Each woman is from a different station in life. Each woman has a uniquely different personality than the others. Two of the women are estranged sisters. One is an outsider.
The setting is Fenley Village, England. The year is 1942.

My Thoughts:

I love the unique storyline of this World War II historical fiction period.

The themes are cooking, baking, sisters, gardening, single parenting, pregnancy, maternal health, hospitality, honor, sacrifice, war, ambition, perseverance, courage, grieving, compassion, forgiveness, power of love, self-worth, loyalty, and bravery.

I love reading WW2 stories. I love cooking and baking. I love stories about women who persevere against the constraints placed on them. I love reading about true friendship among women. If all of these were points they’d add up to 100% for this story.

Additional reasons why I love The Kitchen Front:

1. The plot of the story is who will win the coveted prize, but the story is so much more. It is about building relationships. It is about forgiveness and the steps needed before then. It is about grieving; and how grieving impacts people differently. It is about shame from abuse. It is about closure.
2. I love it that these women are all from different lifestyles. Yet, through their experience in The Kitchen Front, and through their love of cooking and baking, these bring them a oneness-a bond-a building point for everything else.
3. The Kitchen Front is an uplifting story. It’s encouraging. It’s a feel good story.
4. The Kitchen Front has characters who evolve in a good way. I love transformations.
5. I love a story that’s focus is not on a romantic element, but on a true and lasting bond of love. I’d like to see more stories like this!

(Review) Harvest Moon: By the Light of the Moon Series Book #4 by Jenny Knipfer

Publisher and Publication Date: Independently published. November 23, 2020.
Genre: Historical fiction. Native American literature. Christian historical fiction. Romance. Ojibwe history. Women and literature.
Pages: 291.
Format: Kindle Unlimited e-book.
Source: Even though I am apart of the book tour, I received the e-book via Kindle Unlimited. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of Native American historical fiction.
Rating: Very good.

Buy Links:

Amazon UKAmazon USAmazon CAAmazon AU
Barnes and Noble

Additional links for further reading:

From the ThoughtCo about the Ojibwe People.
The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary.
From Publisher’s Weekly, 10 Essential Native American Novels.
From Native American Writers, Early Native American Literature.
American Indians in Children’s Literature.
Social Justice Books. This website provides a long list of Native American literature for children of all ages.

Author Information:

Jenny Knipfer lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Ken, and their pet Yorkie, Ruby. She is also a mom and loves being a grandma. She enjoys many creative pursuits but finds writing the most fulfilling. Spending many years as a librarian in a local public library, Jenny recently switched to using her skills as a floral designer in a retail flower shop. She is now retired from work due to disability. Her education background stems from psychology, music, and cultural missions. Her By the Light of the Moon series earned five-star reviews from Readers’ Favorite, a book review and award contest company. Their praise: “Ruby Moon is entertaining, fast-paced, and features characters that are real. Blue Moon continues a well-written and highly engaging saga of family ties, betrayals, and heartaches. Silver Moon is a highly recommended read for fans of historical wartime fiction, powerful emotive drama, and excellent atmospheric writing. Harvest Moon is probably one of the best historical fiction novels I have ever read. I have come away deep in thought, feeling somewhat like I’ve had a mystical experience and one I will never forget.”
She holds membership in the: Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, Wisconsin Writers Association, Christian Indie Publishing Association, and Independent Book Publishers Association.
Jenny’s favorite place to relax is by the western shore of Lake Superior, where her novel series, By The Light of the Moon, is set. She is currently writing a new historical fiction series entitled, Sheltering Trees. The first title in that series, In a Grove of Maples,—inspired by the lives of her grandparents in the late 1890’s—is slated for fall of 2021.
Connect with Jenny:
WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagram


Summary:

In the wilds of 19th century Ontario, Maang-ikwe, a young Ojibwe woman, falls into a forbidden love, breaks her father’s honor, and surrenders her trust to someone who betrays it. The abuse she suffers divides her from her tribe and causes her to give up what she holds most dear. 
Niin-mawin must come to grips with his culture being ripped away from him. Brought up in a “white man’s” school, he suffers through an enforced “civilized” education and separation from his family. When a man he respects reveals a secret about Niin-mawin’s past, he embarks on a search for the person he hopes can mend the part of his heart that’s always been missing. 
Both Maang-ikwe and Niin-mawin wonder how a harvest of pain and sorrow will impact their lives. Will they find the blessings amongst the hardships, or will they allow the results of division and abuse to taint their hearts forever?

Fans of historical fiction, Native American fiction, Christian historical fiction, clean romance, and literary fiction will be moved by this deep, heartfelt novel.

My Thoughts:

It is rare for me to read a book with characters (or even one character) who are Native Americans. Less than 1% of children’s books have Native American characters. I’m shocked and disappointed. Native Americans are the first Americans. They are the original people who settled in North America. Their stories were first told through oral history. Now, they are also told in book form, but few books share their rich knowledge of history and culture.
After reading Harvest Moon, I performed a web search of Native American literature. The statistics, types of children and adult books, the history in their literature, and the injustice of this people group who have been ignored by publishers are some of the facts I found. Obviously they’ve been ignored because I rarely hear about Native American literature. Other people groups are examined in detail and with media attention. Why not Native American literature?
What I have written in the above section is the first reason why I love Harvest Moon. This is an important story. It is important because it shares true history, in historical fiction form, of how the Ojibwe were treated in the 19th century. Everything about their culture was impacted by white people who wanted the Ojibwe to become like them. This type of indoctrination happened among the other Native Americans in North America.
A second reason why I love this story is it brings a valid but sordid point in the Christian mission work of the 19th century. This point is abuse will never bring a person to belief in God. Christians are to share the gospel message with people. Christians are not to “force” someone to become a believer. Christians are not to scold or beat a person because they are not the “right” color or culture. We are to respect and love people. Native Americans are our neighbor. Jesus commanded us to “love our neighbor.” And, love is not just a word. Love is a word that requires action.
Harvest Moon is a story showing the trauma and after-effects of sexual abuse. I am both a survivor, and a mentor for women who have been traumatized by sexual abuse. I know that healing is something we work towards. One of the ways we work towards healing is by telling our stories. Harvest Moon is one young woman’s story who speaks for so many other women.
Harvest Moon is the story of a mother’s bond with her children, and the bond between children and their mothers.
Harvest Moon is the story of relationships between men and women. Specifically the power of attraction, miscommunication, loneliness, the need for affirmation, and blending a family together.

What I did not like about Harvest Moon is the use of the quotes at the start of each chapter. I love quotes. I love the quotes used. But these quotes do not create a harmony between the content, and using American and European writer’s quotes. I’m sorry if I come across as nit-picking, but it’s like trying to place a puzzle piece in a puzzle that doesn’t fit.

A second point in the story I don’t like is the jumping back and forth in time. This is a common form in historical fiction-dual time periods. Harvest Moon has multiple time periods. I want to clarify. At no point in the story did I become lost by the various time periods. I believe they cause too many breaks in the reading of the story. Breaks can halt or pause a reader to the point of not becoming apart of the story.

This book is not strong in typical Christian fiction themes. There is a Christian theme, but I feel it is not a dominant theme.

Themes in the story: sacrifice, love, bravery, courage, death and dying, self-worth, shame, and family honor.

Over-all, Harvest Moon is a splendid story. It is an important story.

A 46 minute video on the The Ojibwe’ People: Anishinaabe – History, Culture and Affiliations.

(Review) Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things Book 2 by Wendy J. Dunn

Publisher and Publication Date: Poesy Quill Publishing. January 15, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 449.
Format: pdf copy/Kindle e-book copy.
Source: I received a complimentary pdf copy from Poesy Quill Publishing. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction. Readers of Tudor history.
Rating: Excellent.

Link @ Amazon
Link @ Barnes and Noble


About the Author:
Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian author, playwright and poet who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of three Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel, and Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters.

While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder, serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channeling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her own family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally.

Connect with Wendy:
WebsiteFacebookInstagramTwitterGoodreads

Summary:

Winter, 1539

María de Salinas is dying.

Too ill to travel, she writes a letter to her daughter Katherine, the young duchess of Suffolk. A letter telling of her life: a life intertwined with her friend and cousin Catalina of Aragon, the youngest child of Isabel of Castile. It is a letter to help her daughter understand the choices she has made in her life, beginning from the time she keeps her vow to Catalina to share her life of exile in England.

Friendship, betrayal, hatred, forgiveness – All Manner of Things tells a story of how love wins out in the end. 

My Thoughts:
Several reasons I love this story.
1. It is a continuation of the close bond and friendship between Catalina and María from the first book, The Duty of Daughters.
2. I love the opening paragraph. It is rich in descriptive detail that sets the tone for the story.
3. All Manner of Things shows that during this era women had little control of their lives. Their marriages were often arranged. Rare did a couple marry for love.
4. All Manner of Things is a woman’s story. I am deeply effected by their suffering during pregnancies and labor without modern knowledge and medicine. Their plight during labor may lead to death. Yet, they speak as if that is always a chance, always in their minds that this might happen. The women love men who do not honor or respect them. Yet, the women have no choice but to stay married and accept the hurtful arrangements. In this story, I saw more situations where women helped other women. Whether it was advice in love, marriage, or chastity. The women depended on other women. The men seem to be secondary characters.
5. María de Salinas is the narrator of All Manner of Things. In the first book, Beatriz the Latin teacher is the narrator. Both of these women are intelligent, wise, educated, and savvy. They are passionate but they both hold two key character traits. They are committed to their duty. They have strong restraint.
6. I love the perspective María has of Henry as a boy, youth, man, and king. She is a sharp observer.

Final Thought:
While reading this story I wondered how much of Catalina’s experiences with men shaped her and her role to be Henry VIII’s wife?

Favorite Quote:
“Love makes fools of us all.”

Excerpt:

“In May day, when the lark began to rise…” the king sang.

The king is good at play-acting. A stone throw from the king but hidden from view, María lounged on her mantle, in a secluded bower in the parkland near Greenwich palace. He play-acts the good husband. Surely that means he cares about Catalina? In her self-imposed solitude, she sipped her wine and chewed at her chicken leg.

“Trolly lolly lolly lo, Sing trolly lolly lo! My love is to the greenwood gone,” the king sang now.

Catalina had sorrowed over the loss of her confessor and his return to Castile for weeks. Is it any wonder the king organises a day of merriment for his wife and court? Catalina had no notion that their departure from Greenwich palace would be interrupted by the arrival of Robin Hood, Maid Marian and Friar Tuck – or that a banquet would be prepared for their pleasure in this parkland – in a huge bower laid down with carpets and scattered cushions to sit upon. She had no choice but to put on a happy face for her husband – especially when the day was witnessed by foreign ambassadors. Si – the king is good at play-acting, but so is Catalina.

After the banquet when her head started to pound, María had taken possession of one of the smaller bowers, provided for those who wished privacy. After a little while by herself, María was not surprised to see Catalina approaching. She rose and curtseyed. Catalina gestured to her. “Pray sit down. I’ve told the others I am joining you for a time.”

María sat again, wondering what caused Catalina to speak to her in their shared tongue.

“A pleasant outing, don’t you think?” Catalina asked, sitting beside her.

“Si, very pleasant.” Hearing the king’s voice, María drew apart some of the bushes to peer out. His back towards them, the king stood with the Venetian ambassador, both them apparently admiring one of the bowers filled with singing birds of all descriptions. The organisation of this event must have taken days to prepare. Even the trees had been made more beautiful by the hanging of innumerable embroidered hawthorn leaves.

Thomas More broke away from the other courtiers, and began walking in their direction. María pulled back and released the bush. But he still noticed them. He ambled over and bowed to the queen.

Catalina laughed. “You have hunted out my hiding place, Tom.” She glanced at María. “I should say ‘our’. My good friend found it first. Would you like to join us?”

More bowed again. “I could not think of a greater pleasure.”

Watching him throw down his cloak and sit, María hoped no one else would seek them out. She sighed. Catalina’s time with me will likely be cut short as soon as the king realises her absence.
“Are you writing anything new, Tom?” Catalina asked More.

He laughed. “I am always scribbling something new.”

“You do not want to speak of it?”

“I refuse to weary my queen on a day as agreeable as today with talk of my unfinished works. If I did, I would risk my wife’s scolding.”

Catalina grinned. “Your wife scolds you?”

“Aye – she thinks I am but a foolish man at times.” He laughed again. “If she thinks it, she speaks it. But she also ensures a good, and peaceful home too – and I thank her for that. It is what I most need for the health of my soul.”

“I have spoken to Dame Alice over the years since your marriage. I delight in how she speaks her mind, and how much but she loves you, Tom.”

Catalina turned to draw aside some of the bush. She sighed. “I wish I could stay longer, but I too love my husband. It is time to make my return to him. I bid you good day, Thomas – please send my greeting to Dame Alice, and tell her I hope to see her soon. María, if you have enough of seclusion for the day, perchance you could come back soon? I am lonely for you.”

“I will return anon, my queen.”

María watched Catalina go, aware of More’s silence. At last, he spoke, “You do not wish to return?”

María met his curious eyes. “I will always wish to return to my queen. She knows me well – and understands my need to be away from people at times. Today was one such time. All the chatter hurt my head.”

More nodded. He looked out towards the milling courtiers. Music, laughter, talking men and women strangled any chance for a moment of silence. “Yes – the court is not a place for peace, or for the health of one’s soul.”

An accented voice called out her name and that of Thomas More. Master Erasmus shambled over to them. More helped María up from the ground and they greeted the old man outside of the bower. Leaning on his walking stick, Erasmus bowed over her hand before kissing her with relish. María had to restrain herself from wiping her mouth of his taste of mint leaves and garlic. But she liked Erasmus, and was always happy to speak to him.

“Such a delightful habit of the English! I never tire of it!” The elderly man spoke fast in French, his eyes creased up in laughter-lines.

She laughed, replying in the same tongue. “I remember you in the first year of the king’s reign. You sought out all the unwed girls.”

“The kiss of greeting is a good custom of England. But then the English have a lot to make up to us for their weather – and other bad habits.”
“Do we, my old friend?” More said with a laugh.

María glanced at More and back at Erasmus. “What do you speak of, Master?”

“Surely you know?” Erasmus shifted as if in pain. “I speak not of the home of our friend here. The home of Thomas More is a delight to visit. But there are English who dump upon their clay floors foul things. Their rushes conceal old bones, spittle, shit of dogs and cats, and everything under God’s good Heaven to make a stomach turn.” His face screwed up in disgust.

María smiled and gave a short laugh. “Once, those habits were shared by others. I remember my first days at the court of the king’s father. I was shocked time after time by the behaviour of the English nobility. But the queen has long stopped that kind of conduct at court.”

“Aye – conditions at court are greatly improved from the time of the old king. But, to my dismay, I find many other places are exactly the same as when I first came to England, when this King Henry was but a boy and still a prince at Eltham Palace.”

“You met him then?”

“I hoped to gain patronage of the old king, as is still a common pattern to my life. I wished to make myself known to Queen Elizabeth. Thomas, you must remember the day?”

“Aye – we walked together from my home to Eltham. Prince Henry, as he was then, was with his mother. What a beautiful woman she was.”

“Very beautiful – and a good woman too.” Maria sighed. “Our lives changed for the worse after her death.”

“Do you recall how she towered over most men – and stood eye to eye with her own husband?” asked Erasmus.

“Yes, she was tall, but it suited her,” said María. “Tell me, what of the king as a boy? I met him a few times when he was boy, but I am curious to hear what you thought of him, Master Erasmus?”

“From the outside, all his mother’s son. I remember he sailed his toy boat in the pond near the palace. In my mind’s eye, I can see the day still. The water shimmered like a bright mirror in the sun. A touch of breeze swelled its surface and ruffled the feathers of the swans.” He laughed. “Strange, is it not, the older you become, how rain spoils so few of our memories.”

María looked all around. The parkland seemed washed with gold by the lowering sun. Sunshine or rain, an increasing shroud of sorrow wound tighter around each new day. For years, she had no longer wished to look forward. She turned back to the comfort of Erasmus’ voice; it kept her safe in a past not her own.

“I did not know the boy crouching at the pond’s edge was a prince. Although, thinking back, there was a guard close to him. I thought him then a goodly made young lad.”

“Yes – I thought that too when I met him for the first time not long afterwards. He escorted the queen to her marriage with his brother.”

“The queen has been a good patron to me. She is a worthy daughter of the great Isabel of Castile.” Erasmus seemed to no longer want to speak of the past, but the present. María repressed a laugh. If I stay here for much longer, Erasmus will likely begin talking of a new book he wishes more coin from the queen to write.

“The queen is indeed her mother’s daughter.”

Daylight beginning to ebb, the wind turned even colder. María curtseyed to Erasmus and More with great respect. “I must be away and return to the queen. I bid you both good day – and hope to speak to you more very soon.”

She walked away, but cast a glance over her shoulder at the two men. Both of them were talking, and did not seem to care about the lengthening shadows – or that everyone around them began to ready to continue their interrupted journey. They were happy in their own world.

(Review) Villette by Charlotte Bronte

Publisher and Publication Date: Bantam Classic. 1986. Originally published 1853.
Genre: Fiction. Classic literature. Victorian literature.
Pages: 510-this includes the introduction.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of classic literature, Victorian literature, and women and literature.
Rating: Good.

Link @ Amazon
There are several choices of Villette in Kindle. They are less than $5.00.

Charlotte Bronte 1816-1855

Summary:
Villette is the final novel Charlotte Bronte wrote.

In Villette, a young woman named Lucy Snowe left England and became an English teacher in a French boarding school. The school is located in the town of Villette, France. While in Villette Lucy fell in love with Dr. John Graham Bretton. In the story he is called, Dr. John. His feelings toward her are lukewarm. He doesn’t take the time to know her as a person. He doesn’t appreciate Lucy. Lucy is heartsick. Much of the story is Lucy’s thoughts and feelings. The story is rich in detail of her insecurities, fears, anguish, loneliness, and disappointment.

My Thoughts:
I’m going to be gender bias (forgive me): Villette is a female story. A story of this particular female’s thoughts and feelings. For me, and I’m female, it was too much. I had a difficult time sticking with the story until the end. It is not a bad story. It has its merit. It is not a very good story. It is definitely not an excellent story. It is mid-range.
My problem is I disliked being in Lucy’s head. I wanted out.

After the above paragraph, I will list a few things I like about the story.
1. Lucy is an illustration of women who dream or try to become what their love interest wants them to be. This is a lesson in the story: do not become someone else in order to win the affection of another. Yes, men can do this too.
2. Attraction to another person is just that, attraction. A successful relationship requires more than attraction. This is another lesson.
3. Coming of age story. Lucy is 23, but she is inexperienced in romantic relationships. She is learning to be independent.
4. Lucy seems on the edge of hysteria at times. She needs counseling. This is the Victorian era where counseling is unavailable. Lucy is a person I have empathy for her plight, and this is the reason why I continued to read Villette.

Themes in the story: courage, love, betrayal, loneliness, perseverance, grief, death, and passion.

Villette is a character driven story and Lucy is the heroine.

The conflicts are internal.

The story is heavy in dialogue and Lucy’s thoughts.