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Journey Completed: Reading the USA, State # 50: North Dakota and More

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My Interest

I needed a book set in North Dakota to finish my 50-state journey of reading across the United States.

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The Story

“From award-winning, New York Times bestselling author Louise Erdrich comes this vibrant tale of abandonment and sexual obsession, jealousy, and unstinting love.”

Karl and Mary Adare are dumped by a useless mother and make their way separately in life–meeting up at various moments. Mary stays on in Argos, North Dakota where the pair have been sent with their baby brother to stay with an Aunt. This book covers about the next forty or so years of their life of ordinariness interrupted with things like a chef suffering food poisoning.

My Thoughts

The reviewers must have read a different book. By the middle, I’d rather have harvested beets in the field by hand. The “comedy” in the book was barely worthy of a smirk. This book was simply DULL. I think life in North Dakota is less dull than this. At least in Minot, there’s an Air Force base.

My Verdict

3 Stars at best

Yes, I’m also Reading Around the World. Check the tag cloud in the right sidebar for links to those posts. Need ideas? Check out A Year of Reading the World.

My Journey Across the United States in Books

 

For many states, it was hard to choose just one for this post. For others such as North Dakota, Rhode Island, Delaware, Nevada, and Wyoming, I had to do some research to find something. Most are novels, but occasionally I’ve used a nonfiction book. When there were multiple titles to choose from, I’ve simply chosen my favorite. I have read these over my lifetime–not just since blogging came into being.  I’ve included D.C. and Puerto Rico in my list as well. Are you on this journey? Leave me a comment or a link. I’d love to see your choices!

Note: Hyperlinked titles are linked to my reviews

Titles in bold are all-time favorite books

Alabama   To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Alaska  The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Arizona     Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan
Arkansas    I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelo
California    Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
Colorado   Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Connecticut    Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine
Delaware   The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Hernandez
Florida    Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Georgia   Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Hawaii   The Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway  [nonfiction]
Idaho   Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
Illinois     The Last Catholic in America by John R. Powers
Indiana   She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel [I liked it better than Zippy]
Iowa  Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Walker
Kansas  The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas
Kentucky   The Believers: A Novel of Shaker Life by Janice Holt Giles
Louisiana  Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
Maine  Skylark by Patricia MacLachlan
Maryland     The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
Massachusetts  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Michigan      Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Finn [memoir]
Minnesota  Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Straddle
Mississippi  The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Missouri     A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert
Montana    The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans
Nebraska   My Antonia by Willa Cather
Nevada     Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman
New Hampshire    The World According to Garp by John Irving
New Jersey  One for the Money et al by Janet Evanovich [Stephanie Plum series]
New Mexico       Fire Season by Philip Connors   [nonfiction]
New York   The Joyous Season by Patrick Dennis
North Carolina     Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens [Sorry Jan Karon’s Mitford]
North Dakota    The Beet Queen by Louise Erdrich
Ohio “…and the Ladies of the Club” by Helen Hooven Santmyer
Oklahoma   Dust Bowl Girls by Lydia Reeder [nonfiction]
Oregon     If I Stay by Gayle Foreman
Pennsylvania    Julie by Catherine Marshall
PUERTO RICO   We Fed an Island by Jose Andres [nonficiton]
Rhode Island   Memory of Running by Ron McLarty
South Carolina   The Great Santini by Pat Conroy
South Dakota       Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Tennessee     Christy by Catherine Marshall
Texas      Giant by Edna Ferber
Utah         19th Wife by David Ebershoff
Vermont     The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller
Virginia  First Daughter by Stephanie Dray
Washington  Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown [nonfiction]
WASHINGTON DC  Murder in the White House by Margaret Truman Daniel
West Virginia     Rocket Boys [aka October Sky] by Homer Hickam
Wisconsin      Shotgun Love Songs by Nicklas Butler
Wyoming     Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinor Pruitt Stewart

 

Memorializing the trip with cover photos would be fun!

Here’s the perfect map to use…

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50 States Photo Map

Save copies of book covers from Amazon or elsewhere, print them out in color, and add them to the frame.  I might just do this!!

 

If you are interested in seeing all 50 states in person, this article is for you!

50 Things I Learned From Visiting All 50 States

 

As you are working your way around the country in person? Then you might want to chart your progress with some of these trackers:

 

Scratch-off Map

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Map

 

50 States Travel Journal

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50 States Travel Journal

 

This Land is Your Land

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for the Day by Winifred Watson

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My Interest

If you have not yet discovered London’s Persephone Books, you are in for many, many delightful reads.  Their aim is to rescue and keep in print books of the 20th Century from women authors. Blogger Dwell in Possibility makes reading these even a little more fun by having readathons, or in the case of last weekend, a mini-readathon. During readathons, you, obviously, READ books from this publisher’s list and share your reading on social media using the hashtag #PersephoneReadathon. There is even a new Twitter account: @ReadPersephone. Today I’m reviewing my mini-readathon book. I didn’t finish it all in one weekend, though I certainly could have.

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The Story

“She began to tremble, trying to push away the small, clear voice. She wanted to go where they were going tonight, with a pathetic, passionate eagerness. She wanted to visit a night club, to partake of its activities…Simply and honestly she faced and confessed her abandonment of all the principles that had guided her through life. In one short day, at the first wink of temptation, she had not just fallen, but positively tumbled, from grace. Her long years of virtue counted for nothing. She had never been tempted before. The fleshpots called: the music bewitched: dens of iniquity charmed….. She could not deny that this way of sin, condemned by parents and principles, was a great deal more pleasant than the lonely path of virtue, and her morals had not withstood the test” (p. 135).

 

Guenivere Pettigrew, a spinster of 40 living in 1930’s London, has been accustomed to earning her way as a nursery maid or ladies maid or similar. Currently without a position, but thinking of the amazingly-still-open-Workhouse looming, she goes to one of the two job interviews the Agency has left. Supposedly a position for a nursemaid, the door is answered by the 1930’s version of a Bright Young Thing, albeit one who has climbed up to her position via her voice and the theatre. Miss Pettigrew does not even get to properly introduce herself before she is sucked into the vortex of her potential employer’s amazing social life.

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Image: Persephone Books

“Nonsense, if you can look good once, you can look good always” (p. 166).


My Thoughts

My first thought was more people need an epiphany like that of Miss Pettigrew:

“What would her dear dead mother say if life came back to her body? What did Miss Pettigrew care? Nothing. Freely, frankly, joyously, she acknowledged the fact. She was out for a wild night. She was out to paint the town red….She was out to enjoy herself as she had never enjoyed herself before, and all the sermons in the world wouldn’t change her course.” (p. 167)

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“She wore daringly a gown of sheer white.”  (p. 180)

I loved this line–that little nuance turns the phrase just slightly to the left.

My second thought was so many people hold on to “What would X think/say?” or “But Father X/Pastor X said...” and let that be an excuse to hide from the world–hide from fun and enjoyment. Miss Pettigrew never once compromised her true beliefs–she just learned to loosen up and enjoy the day.

This was such a fun book! It was a super-fast, but compelling read. Conversations are not burdened with things such as quotation marks or attribution of speakers. The reader is just swept up into that same vortex that caught Miss Pettigrew herself. The original illustrations are clever and so appropriate to both the era of the and to its characters.  I liked, too, that most of the characters are self-made, not aristocrats. They were much freer to make friends and romantic attachments.  “Delightful” was the word I’ve read everywhere on this gem of a book and delightful is my verdict.

4 Stars

 

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day by Winifred Watson

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Review: Unmarriageable: A Novel by Soniah Kamal

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My Interest

I love reading books set in other countries and other cultures. Pakistan is a country the media tells us to fear, so that made this story even more appealing. The idea of a Pakistani P & P was so clever I couldn’t wait!  For the record, I enjoy Jane Austen but prefer to watch or listen to the stories rather than read them so I knew it would have to be an audiobook to fully enjoy it. Thankfully, I finally made it up the library waiting list for the e-audio. It was well worth the wait.

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The Story

The Binat family has been swindled by relatives and left with only a house in a nowheresville small city in their native Pakistan. The marital prospects for the five Binat daughters look to be nil due to their being in the poor part of the otherwise prominent family. The two oldest daughters, Jena and Alys, teach at a private school and the other three sisters attend the school. The mother, who wants her social position back, is determined they will all marry excellent rich men. Her husband, for whom the betrayal of his family has been the source of a near breakdown, potters in his garden and tries to stay out of the way.

Meanwhile, the family garners an invitation to the top wedding of the year. Mrs. Binat pulls out all possible stops to send her daughters off in the best possible outfits, with the best-looking hair and the best accessories they can manage on their paultry budget. Let the fun begin!

The story shifts with the shifting alliances, makes twists when treachery is uncovered and generally takes the reader on a prom-night-stretch-limo-party-bus of a ride to the predictable happy ending.

My Thoughts

The backstabbing relatives, overly abundant gossip and the general cattiness of women are marvelously employed devices in this story. The author has a great ear for dialogue and the voices of the characters each run true. Of course, the daughters are stereotypes. It’s an Austen re-tell! Jena, the quiet one, Alys the bold one, Marie the religious one and Kitty and Lady the bratty younger ones.

I loved this book! It was so much fun. I wanted to hug hapless Mr. Binat, smack Kity and Lady and Sami and Hami [I listened to the audio–sorry if I spelled them wrong] The fun nicknames like Gin and Rum added to the party atmosphere.  Get yourself some chai and get ready for a great read.

My Verdict

4 Full Stars

 

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For another Pride & Prejudice retelling see:

 

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Ayesha At Last: A Novel by Uzma Jalaluddin

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Review: Strange Weather in Tokyo [aka The Briefcase] by Hiromi Kawakami

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My Interest

As you’ve learned if you have read my blog for a while, I love a good older man–younger woman romance. No Sugardaddies! No gold-diggers! No pervs! Just a sincere older man, younger woman pairing.

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Map Source

The Story

Tsukiko is an office worker in early midlife. One evening at a bar she encounters a teacher from her high school. They develop a close, loving relationship. “Sensei” as she continues to call him is much older, but they find they order the same foods, like drinking together, and enjoy each other’s take on the world.

“Would you consider a relationship with me, based on a premise of love?” he asks a few years later.

My Thoughts

Hopefully, no spoilers. I hate them. Sorry if I give something away without realizing it First, let me say that I loved the sound of the food–I want to try ALL the food in this book!

I’ve only read a handful of Japanese books, so I probably missed miles of symbolism in this one. For example, Sensei always carries a briefcase and in the end, we find something out about it, but I’m still unsure what it means. Some of his pronouncements, some of her acts–surely there was supposed to be more meaning than I understood in them?

This is one of the few older man/younger woman relationships that I accepted and liked but found “off.” Not pervy, not desperate, not cringe-y, just “off” somehow. I found myself hoping Tsukiko would take off for America or move-in with her high school classmate or just adopt a pet. I did not “feel” the relationship between her and Sensei in the way I believe the author intended. I found Tsukiko’s only true-to-life emotion was in the cringy last part where she wonders if a physical relationship even matters.

My Verdict

3 Stars

Read all of the reviews of Japanese Literature Challenge 13 here

#JapaneseLitChallenge13

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Review: The Sacrament: A Novel by Olaf Olafsson

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My Interest

I tried this audiobook earlier as I was curious to read more about Iceland, but got too confused and quit. I did something I rarely do, I read some reader reviewers on Amazon and got the gist of what was confusing me and tried it again a few months later. This week, it made sense.

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The Story

Pauline/Sister Johanna reveals her story in an often confusing narrative told in back-and-forth switches in time from her student days in Paris to later in her life and to even later in her life. Her personal story is entwined with the stories of her investigation into tales of abuse in a Catholic School in Iceland. An emotionally blackmailing priest, a headmaster with problems, children who are being abused, and a church hierarchy wanting to hide it all away combine with the dark winter days and gloomy weather of Iceland and the gloomy emotional landscape of her early Paris years to make this story a fascinating, if somewhat dark, read. [Note: Abuse is a topic in the book, but there are no descriptions of the abuse and there is no sex. It is all just there in the background, it is not a focus.] The gloom is enlivened by a dog named after a Beatle and a car named after a Savior.

My Thoughts

This story had such promise I took the time to sort it out and try it again–that should be all I need to say! Olafsson can really spin a tale. I do wish, though, that for the sake of the reader he’d take on just a tiny bit of conventional style and put in a date or a place when he switches back and forth in time. This is confusing enough in print, but in the audio, it was often truly frustrating until I got the hang of his storytelling style, by which time in my first attempt, I was hopelessly lost.

In spite of the confusion, this book more than lives up to its hype. The audio was beautifully done by Jane Copeland whose voice was perfect for the story’s atmosphere. I will definitely look for more of Olafsson’s work.

My Verdict

4 Stars

The Sacrament: A Novel by Olaf Olafsson

 

For A Nonfiction Book Set in Iceland, see:

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Names for the Sea by Sarah Moss

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Review: A Castle in Wartime by Catherine Bailey

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My Interest

If you’ve seen Tom Cruise’s film The Valkryie you know that not everyone fully supported Hitler. There was a German resistance movement even within the Wehrmacht. One of the Valkryie conspirators was Ulrich Von Hassell. He was later executed for his part in the plot to kill Hitler. His daughter, Fey, had an interesting war as well. This book tells her story from after the time of Valkryie until the end of the war.

 

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Source
Fey and her sons

 

The Story

Fey Von Hassell was a very privileged young woman who married an equally privilege Italian aristocrat. Not only was Fey the daughter of a Valkryie conspirator, but her maternal grandfather was Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz. She grew up on a fine estate and her family’s friends had all been in the Kaiser’s own circle. Her husband’s family had similar connections, only in Italy. After Valkrie, with her husband in Rome in the new Italian government as a cover for his resistance work, Fey is taken into custody and separated from her sons.

As the war grinds to its end, Fey and other “Sippenhäfltlinge” (kin of prisoners) are moved from location to location–sometimes to concentration camps, but never in the same circumstances as the Jewish prisoners awaiting death. They were all Germans, Aryans, but the relatives of “traitors.”

As happens in wartime, miscommunication hampers Fey’s ability to make sense of it all. Arriving at one destination, some of the little party of “Prominenten” prisoners, who by now included prominent POWs such as two men providentially named “Churchill,” but who were, in fact, no relation to Winston,  are reunited with their seized children, but Fey is not. As Himmler uses the group as a bargaining chip, Fey becomes determined to make a change in her life that seems impossible, but that gives her comfort to survive teh moment.

Finally, at war’s end, she realizes the intended change in her life cannot take place and that she must try to find her children again, all the time fearing that they have been given new names and perhaps even been adopted by a new family. Bureaucracies of several nations now stand in her way, yet she and husband Detalmo, are determined to find their boys.

 

My Thoughts

I do not seek to minimize Fey’s very real trauma, but I was somewhat relieved to read her words of angst at having been in the camps, however briefly, and not had to suffer as the Jewish prisoners did. At no time did she go hungry. Occasionally in travel, there were uncomfortable conditions and yes, her life was in danger from bombing and later from execution–an extremely traumatic idea to live under. Unlike those in the concentration camp awaiting their deaths, Fey’s suffering was confined to about a year at the end of the war. Did she suffer trauma? Of course many times over. But nothing compared to the Jews.

She was right to be proud of her father, whose personal moral code could not stomach Hitler. No one could resign a commission under Hitler, so he did what he could and helped plot to kill the man. Her husband, too, worked with the resistance in Italy to end the war. Those are proud accomplishments speaking of the best morals and true courage.

I have read other books on German aristocrats in the war and most leave me wondering “why are you complaining?” [See the bottom of this post for reading suggestions]. Fey, though, had a mother’s greatest nightmare come true and lived through it. That, too, is a proud accomplishment. That the search for her sons was not that arduous compared to that of many displaced persons, does not lessen the trauma the events inflicted on her.

My Verdict

4.0

 

A Castle in Wartime: One Family, Their Missing Sons, and the Fight to Defeat the Nazis by Catherine Bailey

The British edition

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The Lost Boys: A Family Ripped Apart by War by Catherine Bailey.

 

 

 

Another book by a German aristocrat at the end of the war

 

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A World Elsewhere by Sigrid MacRae, link is to Amazon (I do not make any money if you click)

I reviewed this one on my old blog.

 

 

A Novel of about an aristocratic German woman at the end of the war

 

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The Women in the Castle: A Novel by Jessica Shattuck, link is to my review.

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Review: The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

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A Little Background

I must confess that author and historian David McCullough is a secret crush of mine! His wonderful voice, narrating stories on PBS’ American Experience, his amazing prose in his long list of books–wow. This man is the real deal. But, when this book came out in 2011 I was shocked that I couldn’t stick with it. Had he failed me at last? Fast-forward to last week when I needed an audiobook for my commute.  My heart raced as I read about the audio version in the library catalog: David McCullough AND Edward Herrmann. I’m that geeky–it was a love story for my ears! The late Edward Herrmann is/was also a crush of mine. Sigh. What a difference the format can make.

 

The Story

From the early years of the 19th Century many Americans began crossing the Atlantic to study, sculpt, paint, read, write, wine, and dine, in Paris. From artists to statesmen from doctors to writers, citizens of the young American nation went back to “the old country” or at least back to Europe and straight to Paris to taste a more cultured, less Puritan lifestyle that, by-and-large, agreed with each of them. James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain, Senator Charles Sumner, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mary Casssatt, Theodore Roosevelt Sr and Jr, Harriet Beacher Stowe and Augustus Saint-Gaudens are among the many, many people McCullough discusses in this amazing story.  The characters, whether heard from briefly or throughout the book, have their stories woven in and out of the threads of each other’s lives. Teddy Roosevelt, a mere boy on his visit, gets a brief moment. Charles Sumner a long season. It works beautifully.

My Thoughts

What an enjoyable audiobook! I sat both my office parking lot and my own driveway listening longer than I should have nearly every day. I found myself pulling up online maps and photos and quotes to expand the story. I felt guilty remembering my despair in 2011 when reading the print version. I’m pretty sure it was me at that moment and nothing what-so-ever to do with my beloved David’s prose, but having Edward read it was so nice, too.

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

 

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Uncategorized

Review of Classics Club Spin #22: Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

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The Classics Club blog hosts the Club and the Spins. It’s a fun concept. Create your list of classics to be read and then read the post announcing the numbered selection from your list to read.

Here is my current Classics Club List

  1. Loving Spirit
  2. Love for Lydia
  3. South Riding
  4. The Blue Castle
  5. Corelli’s Mandolin
  6. Groves of Academe
  7. Jamaica Inn
  8. Age of Innocence
  9. The Bostonians
  10. Burmese Days
  11. Dead Souls
  12. Wide Sargasso Sea
  13. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
  14. Passage to India
  15. I, Claudius
  16. Lost Horizon
  17. House of Spirits
  18. No Surrender
  19. Woman in Berlin
  20. Death in the Afternoon

13

#13 was the spin result, so I looked at my list and read the delightful Excellent Women by Barbara Pym.

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The Story

Mildred Lathbury, a clergyman’s daughter, lives in post-war London and is in real danger of becoming a….gasp….true spinster! She is one of those “useful spinsters,” though, sort of a next-generation “Surplus Woman.” She is the type woman I think of as born middle-aged, who has never considered not following the rules to the letter, always has her checkbook balanced, and never goes to sleep without doing the dishes. She is also not dull!

Her world is unsettled by two women–one a wife, the other a widow, who invade her home and the home of her close friend. One settles on the almost-but-not-quite man of the moment (really, Mildred is too sensible to have hopes anymore, right?) the other dumps her charming, handsome, used-to-being-doted-on-by-spinsters husband. Quandary time!

Will the useful spinster work all things out for the good?

My Thoughts

I loved this little book from start-to-finish! A true delight.

My Verdict

4 Stars

 


#ccspin #ccwhatimreading

Uncategorized

Review & Blog Tour: Entertaining Mr. Pepys by Deborah Swift

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My Interest

Pepys Diary came to my attention many, many years ago when I first read Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road. I finally bought a copy a few years ago and have been dabbling in it between books ever since. It is an amazing read. So, when I saw a new-to-me historical fiction author had a book with his name in the title I decided to give it a try. One minor correction to my assumption: While this book serves perfectly well as a stand-alone novel, it is actually part of a series by the author who uses different people in the Diary as the main character.

The Story

When an evil step-mother intrudes on her lift, Bird, finds herself married off to an unpleasant man of lower rank who owns a livery stable. After a few miserable years of soaping saddles and working like made, Bird finally enters a company of players at a theater. Now that theaters are using women in women’s roles, perhaps she can develop a more satisfying life–and get more business for her husband’s stable?

Before she can get really going the plague hits London. Yes–THE plague–this was the 17th Century, after all. But, wait! There’s the discovery of the….limeskin! And, ….. [no spoilers]

What I Loved

Swift makes Pepys would come alive! The characters are so real. I felt so much for each of the women, especially, but also, in an odd way for Bird’s husband as his story was revealed. I had the same sense as I did reading Pepys actual diary that the Biblical adage, “There is nothing new under the sun,” is so very true–and that is what makes this book so good. It shows us real life with believable characters.

 

My Verdict

4 stars

Entertaining Mr. Pepys by Deborah Swift

Publication Date: September 12, 2019
Hachette Book Group
eBook. Paperback, Audiobook; 400 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

London 1666

Elizabeth ‘Bird’ Carpenter has a wonderful singing voice, and music is her chief passion. When her father persuades her to marry horse-dealer Christopher Knepp, she suspects she is marrying beneath her station, but nothing prepares her for the reality of life with Knepp. Her father has betrayed her trust, for Knepp cares only for his horses; he is a tyrant and a bully, and will allow Bird no life of her own.

When Knepp goes away, she grasps her chance and, encouraged by her maidservant Livvy, makes a secret visit to the theatre. Entranced by the music, the glitter and glamour of the surroundings, and the free and outspoken manner of the women on the stage, she falls in love with the theatre and is determined to forge a path of her own as an actress.

But life in the theatre was never going to be straightforward – for a jealous rival wants to spoil her plans, and worse, Knepp forbids it, and Bird must use all her wit and intelligence to change his mind.

Based on events depicted in the famous Diary of Samuel Pepys, Entertaining Mr Pepys brings London in the 17th Century to life. It includes the vibrant characters of the day such as the diarist himself and actress Nell Gwynne, and features a dazzling and gripping finale during the Great Fire Of London.

The third in Deborah Swift’s atmospheric trilogy, bringing to life the women in Pepys’ Diary. Each novel features a different character and can be read as a stand-alone book.

‘A remarkably beguiling read. It transported me to the glitter and filth of seventeenth century London’ – Martine Bailey, author of The Almanack
 
‘The fusion of historical facts and fiction is so flawless that it is hard to know where reality ends and fiction begins’ – Readers Favourite Review

Amazon | Book Depository

Praise for the Pepys Trilogy

‘Swift is a consummate historical novelist, basing her books on immaculate research and then filling the gaps between real events and real people with eloquent storytelling, atmospheric scene setting and imaginative plot lines’ – The Visitor

‘A novel that transports readers with astonishing and engrossing detail’ – Readers Favorite 5*

‘Pepys and his world spring to vibrant life… Gripping, revealing and stunningly imagined’ -Lancashire Evening Post

About the Author

Deborah Swift is the author of three previous historical novels for adults, The Lady’s Slipper, The Gilded Lily, and A Divided Inheritance, all published by Macmillan/St Martinâs Press, as well as the Highway Trilogy for teens (and anyone young at heart!). Her first novel was shortlisted for the Impress prize for new novelists.

She lives on the edge of the beautiful and literary English Lake District a place made famous by the poets Wordsworth and Coleridge.

For more information, please visit Deborah Swift’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Thursday, November 21
Excerpt at The Lit Bitch
Review at Reading the Past

Friday, November 22
Review at Gwendalyn’s Books
Guest Post at The Writing Desk

Monday, November 25
Review & Excerpt at Book Reviews from Canada

Tuesday, November 26
Review at A Book Geek

Wednesday, November 27
Guest Post at Short Book and Scribes

Thursday, November 28
Feature at To Read, Or Not to Read

Friday, November 29
Review at Locks, Hooks and Books
Guest Post at What Is That Book About

Monday, December 2
Review at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, December 3
Excerpt at Broken Teepee

Wednesday, December 4
Interview at Passages to the Past

Friday, December 6
Excerpt at Donna’s Book Blog

Monday, December 9
Review at Red Headed Book Lady

Tuesday, December 10
Excerpt at Words and Peace

Wednesday, December 11
Review at Hopewell’s Public Library of Life

Thursday, December 12
Feature at Coffee and Ink

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour, we are giving away a signed copy of Entertaining Mr. Pepys! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on December 12th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
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Review: Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August by Oliver Hilmes

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Thank you to blogger Books Are My Favorite and Best for bringing this book to my attention.

My Interest

The between the wars era, the build-up to World War II and the war itself are a major focus of my nonfiction reading. I was captivated by the earlier book (and subsequent documentary) Boys in the Boat as well, so this title grabbed my attention immediately. I’ve watched (on Youtube) Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, which sadly (given who commissioned it and its purpose) was mesmerizing.

The Story

This short book presents vivid vignettes of the Berlin in August 1936. Each begins with the daily weather forecast and most have an excerpt from the State Police Daily Report–mostly monitoring conversations overheard or reported expressing opposition to Hitler and his Reich. Some have daily instructions to the German press or reports from the press. The vignettes were obviously chosen to tie the world of 1936 to today, but that worked very well to me.

Remembering the Biblical adage, “There is nothing new under the sun,” as well as remembering my college history course on Paris and Berlin in the 1920s and other reading on Weimar Germany, I found one of the most moving vignettes was also one of the most obvious for the tie-in to today: “Transvestite” Toni Keller holds a Weimar-issued Transvestite certificate allowing “him” [Emil at birth] to dress as a woman [Toni]. With the swing to arch-conservatism that occurs with Hitler’s take-over, Keller now lives in fear for her safety. Sexual and gender diversity flourished under the Weimar regime in Berlin. People lived their true selves openly in the city, if not nationwide.

We are also reminded that 5 miles outside the Berlin city limits a new concentration camp, Sachenhausen, has been built. This is the side of the Reich the Olympics are at great pains to hide. To win over the tourists, changes have been temporarily implemented. The most virulent anti-Semitic newspaper is not displayed publically, “token” Jews are allowed to compete for the German teams, and the most visible forms of suppression of all opposition to Hitler are out-of-site for the duration of the games. Many of the book’s vignettes show the smoke-and-mirrors at work on the tourists who descend upon Berlin to see the games.

 

My Thoughts

This was an excellent if short, glimpse at the alternative reality the games gave to Berlin that summer. Quotes from Goebbels diary and from that of British politician/socialite Chips Channon add to the “atmosphere” of being there that is so well conveyed by the unique format of the book.

4.5 Stars

Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August by Oliver Hilmes