The Poor Among Us

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is a well-known Top 150 20th Century novel which is semi-autobiographical. Over the course of the early 1900’s, the main character Francie and her family reside in several tenements in Brooklyn. Her father is a singing waiter who works erratically and drinks regularly. Her mother helps support the family by doing janitorial work. Francie and her younger brother do their bit to earn money as well.

This story is sad, but accurately portrays the plight of the poor. Francie is motivated to study as a way of bettering her life, but is forced to leave school after completing grammar school. Lying about her age, she obtains factory work and on paydays, turns her check over to her mother. Her brother does the same, but when Fall rolls around, he begins high school and Francie continues to work because the family hasn’t enough income for both children to continue their education. Francie accepts her plight, but finds ways to climb the steep ladder ahead. She’s a fighter with a good heart.

Overall this is a bleak tale; these are children who are forced to support their poorly educated parents. Unfortunately, this was a common occurrence during that era. The writing and character depictions are excellent. I was moved by it and recommend it wholeheartedly.

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Mummy, Mummy, Who’s Got the Mummy?

River God by Wilbur Smith is the first in a series about scrolls written over 4,000 years ago in Egypt by a eunuch named Taita who attended the young Queen Lostris of a much older Pharoh Mamose. Although the author leads you to believe the events are true, and the scrolls real, the story is historical fiction. It is a phenomenal story either way.

In the first novel, we are introduced to Taita who narrates the action in first-person. He is extremely talented and intelligent. He’s also in love with Lostris, the young wife of Pharaoh. She in turn, is in love with Tanus , a mighty warrior in service to her husband, the Pharaoh.

In addition to the love stories, this adventurous tale chronicles an invasion of Egypt by the Hyksos army who are skilled horsemen. Up until this point in time, Egyptians have never known horses existed. Outmatched on the battlefield, the Queen, her child, Tanus, and Taita flee southward along the Nile and live a nomadic life in Africa for many years until such time as they are able to return to Egypt to again battle the Hyksos invaders.

This is a well-written, exciting novel which is followed by a sequel entitled The Seventh Scroll which takes place in modern times when a group of historians studying one of the ancient scrolls endeavor to find the lost tomb of Pharaoh Mamose. The sequel is even more thrilling than the first!

I am happy to be able to label both of these novels “highly recommended”.

I extend sincere gratitude to my fellow reading enthusiasts and wish you all a Happy New Year!

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Off With His Head

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory is a recent historical fiction novel which takes place during the final turbulent days of England’s King Charles.

This is a love story of sorts; love between a poor midwife with two children whose husband disappeared with their boat leaving them high and dry, a Catholic priest working as a spy, and the love of that priest for his King, the abandoned midwife and his country.

Unfortunately, I thought the story reminded me too much of Downton Abbey in an earlier era. I also found it tedious and the plot very slow moving. This novel is the first in a new series. It ends in a cliffhanger, but I don’t plan on reading any sequels.

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5 Stars 2019

Here’s my list of favorite reads during 2019! Many are not new, but in my estimation, great reads. I appreciate your continued patronage and send best wishes for a happy holiday season and peaceful New Year.

  1. The Late George Apley
  2. Everyone Brave is Forgiven
  3. The End of Loneliness
  4. Leonardo da Vinci
  5. Giovanni’s Room
  6. The Alice Network
  7. Olive Kitteridge
  8. All the Lives We Never Lived
  9. Flyboys: A True Story of Courage
  10. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
  11. Les Miserables
  12. The Living
  13. Maggie Brown and Others: Stories
  14. Pork Pie Hat
  1. Grateful American: A Journey From Self to Service
  2. . Sophie’s Choice
  3. . The Riddle and the Knight: In Search of Sir John Mandeville
  4. . American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt

 

(Please note: the books are listed in the order in which they were read.)

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That’s Hollywood

The Great Pretenders by Laura Kalpakian is a fictional novel with a lot of action. Set in California during the McCarthy era, its main character Roxanne goes against many 1950’s conventions by opening her own agency for aspiring Hollywood screenwriters. However, many talented writers are in hiding after being shunned as Communists during the Red Scare. Roxanne hatches a plot to use other writers who aren’t shunned to front for those who remain in hiding by submitting scripts to the studios with the hope that she can aid the good writers from the past as well as the ones acting as fronts.

In the process of her subterfuge, she meets and fall in love with an African-American reporter who becomes involved in the fight for civil rights being played out in Alabama. Obviously, her bi-racial Love relationship goes against 1950’s social morays, and troubles ensue.

There’s definitely a lot of rules being broken and secrets being kept in this novel; in my opinion, too many. I thought the communist scare was plenty by itself. The addition of the race riots as a bit too much for me and I questioned whether a privileged girl raised in Hollywood by studio moguls would have taken the actions Roxanne did. I had difficulty buying the dual storyline. It’s not a bad novel, but it made me feel as if the author was overzealous in her desire to correlate communism with prejudice in the South. The main character’s upbringing didn’t jive with her actions.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. However, recent personal health issues required me to listen to the audiobook instead. It drove me nuts that the reader repeatedly mispronounced the word “picture”! She kept saying pitcher! I’m surprised and disappointed no one caught that error because the word picture was so often used.

I regret to say this novel has a message, but it didn’t come across for me.

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The Apple from the Tree

American Princess: A novel of first daughter Alice Roosevelt by Stephanie Marie Thornton is a well researched book about President Theodore Roosevelt’s first child who led a very colorful life.

Alice’s mother died only two days after giving birth leaving TR bereft. Baby Alice looked so much like her late mother that TR had great difficulty even looking at her. He did love his daughter along with his second wife with whom he had additional children, but Alice was an independent, intelligent woman whose antics captured the attention of the media throughout her fascinating long life.

She married a philandering politician from Ohio and gave birth to the daughter of a married man, also a politician, with whom she had an affair for years. Yes, Alice broke many rules of convention, but the story of her life and political prowess is captivating.

I’ve read and own several books about the Roosevelt families and this is a welcome addition to my knowledge about their lives. Considering the current state of political turmoil in the U.S., this book reinforced my belief that politicians are in a class of their own!

Alice’s life was in many ways glamorous, but she had more than her fair share of sorrow. She was quite an interesting character!

After finishing this book, it occurred to me that my love of reading historical books stems from the desire to gain knowledge from people who have walked the roads I have yet to tread. Told in the first-person, this historical fiction is one I highly recommend.

Please note, I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Expendable Lives

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff  is a historical fiction novel set during and after World War II. It begins in New York near Grand Central Station where an unknown woman has been hit and killed by an automobile. This attention grabber leads the reader and one of the story’s main characters named Grace on an intriguing hunt for the truth about the dead woman.

Inside the station, Grace, a recent war widow, discovers an abandoned suitcase containing photos and personal items. Inexplicably, Grace pockets the pictures of twelve women , but leaves the suitcase behind. Something makes her want to find out who these women are and so her quest begins.

What follows is a short step back in time to London and France after Grace finds out the women were Allied radio operators working behind the lines in France prior to the D-Day invasion. With the aid of her late husband’s friend, Grace discovers the fates of the women in the photos.

I enjoyed this story with one exception based on previous nonfiction books I have read about radio transmissions and operations during World War II which taught me about radio codes. For security, the codes were often changed. That didn’t happen in this novel and I wondered why not.

I think this story could have been told by a different character without the aid of present tense Grace as well. Her side story doesn’t really enhance the tale. Overall, I enjoyed the novel because of my fascination with war stories. I recommend it!

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