Monday, June 28, 2010

Book Reviews, Part II (American historical fiction)

Along with several classics, I read a lot of historical fiction over the past year.  In fact, that's pretty much all I read.  I know, a well-rounded person would read more non-fiction or some biographies or something, but I read to escape, so historical fiction is my thing.

Several of the books I read are set in America and while I'm more of a European history buff, I found these books to be quite fascinating.

"One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd" is set in pioneer times in the Colorado/Wyoming area.  It follows the life of May Dodd, a forward-thinking woman who breaks out of an insane asylum and is sent west to become the wife of a Native American.  She, along with about twenty other women, "marry" Native American men so that the United States can uphold its end of a treaty with an uncivilized tribe.  This novel was very interesting and while the author may have taken some liberties with actual historical events, the events that take place seem very realistic; very sad, but realistic.  **** (four stars)

"The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane" is one of those "story within a story" novels.  The outer story surrounds a young woman who is pursuing her Ph.D. in history while restoring her recently deceased grandmother's home in Salem, Massachusetts.  Based on that, you can probably figure out that the inner story revolves around the Salem witch trials of the 1690s.  This one reminded me a bit of the Dan Brown novels with its web of clues and semi-predictable mystery.  If you like reading about the witch trials, this one's definitely worth checking out.  *** (three stars)

"Prayers for Sale" takes place in late 1800's/early 1900's Colorado mining territory.  The main character is an elderly widow who spends her last summer in her high-altitude home teaching and telling stories to a young woman whose husband recently dragged her to the area so that he could work in one of the many gold mines.  The elderly woman is a sweet, yet tough, old lady who not only withstands the harshness of high-altitude Colorado winters, but the heartbreak that comes with having and losing both husbands and children.  I thoroughly enjoyed this one, even though the last couple of pages didn't seem to fit with the tone of the rest of the novel.  **** (four stars)

I picked up "A Touch of Grace" on a whim one day while searching the library shelves for something new.  I didn't realize that it was one in a series of books surrounding a particular family until I was a couple of chapters into it, so I probably didn't get as much out of it as I could have.  However, the story stood on it's own, without my having read the other books in the series.  It's set in the Midwest in the early 1900's and follows a family of Scandinavian origin who makes their living farming and semi-ranching.  The main character is a young woman in her 20's who is deaf and trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life.  She travels to the east coast with a young man who happened to work on her family's farm as an intern of sorts to interview with a prestigious school for the deaf.  It's a very sweet story and someday when I have the time (ha, ha), I'd like to read the other books in the series.  *** (three stars)

I read "A Reliable Wife" for one of my book clubs and I hesitate to review it here because none of us liked it, which is a very rare occurrence.  The concept of the novel is great:  a single woman in her 30's becomes a mail order bride to a 50-something man after answering an advertisement in a newspaper.  It is set in the midwest in the early 1900's.  We all agreed that the author (a man) failed dismally in his attempts to write from a woman's point of view.  All of us pretty much had to force ourselves to finish this one.  Not a good sign.  * (one star)

"The Help" was my pick for book club one month and it was a real winner.  Every single one of us loved it!  It probably helps that I live in the South (yes, I consider Texas, at least East Texas, to be The South, not The West) and we can relate to many of the main character's experiences with race relations.  The main character is a single, college-educated girl in her early 20's who returns home to find that no one cares about her fancy degree; they only care about getting her married off to the first guy who finds her attractive.  Did I mention it takes place in the 1960's, a time when women were supposed to go to college to get their Mrs. degrees?  Anyway, she finds the way that her (former) high school friends treat their "help" to be absolutely deplorable and with the aid of the African-American maids, housekeepers and nannies, writes a tell-all book revealing the cruelty of Southern women when it comes to their hired help.  Everyone I know who has read this book has loved it, even though most of us are ashamed to admit that we know people who have acted like the bullies/enemies in the novel.  We all found ourselves cheering for the main character and the brave women who lent their stories to her tell-all book.  ***** (five stars)


  1. A few of these sound very interesting Jana!! Thanks for the update.

  2. great reviews. Just one question, if you like historical fiction would you consider reading "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" I know it is not really the same catagory but???