Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Secrets of a Charmed Life – Susan Meissner

Secrets of a Charmed Life

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

  • Source: Library – Friend’s of the Library Bookstore
  • Genre: Fiction – Historical, WW2, England,

Growing up in the East End of London during the start of WW2, Emmy Downtree took more responsibilities than a typical 15-year-old. Acting as a mother to her half-sister Julia all the while dreaming of becoming a wedding dress designer. Emmy had just taken on a part-time job at the local wedding dress store when events were speeding up in the war. Children were being evacuated from their homes and being transported to the countryside to live with foster families as the war raged on in London. After receiving a letter from her former employer, Emmy returns to London with Julia in tow. Not knowing that their return would be the day of the infamous blitz. Divided and alone, Emmy must take her own future into her own hands. But who will she be? Emmy Downtree or Isabel Crofton?

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I could not put down this book. It was written so beautifully. The rage, resentment and anger Emmy felt towards her mother influenced so many of her decisions. Her love-hate relationship with being Julia’s guardian. Loving and taking her of her much younger sister, all the while wanting to spread her own wings and fly away from the life their mother had provided for them in the East End. During her journey, Emmy learned so much about her own history through accidental meetings and occurrences. The characters felt so real. We never learned in school that children where separated from their families all throughout the war. Children sent to England from other countries, children sent from London the countryside, all hoping to find safer land and shelter from the war above their heads. This is a book about the war, but moreso about one family’s experiences, losses and discoveries as a result of the war.

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The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb (Melanie Benjamin) – Review

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb A Novel.The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin
Age: Adult
Genre: Historical 
Publication date: July 27th, 2011
Publisher Delacorte Press, 2011
ISBN: 9780385344159
448 pages

Back cover synopsis:

A two-foot, eight-inch tall dynamo, Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump lived a remarkable life that reaches out t us more than a century later. Taken under the wing of the immortal impresario P.T. Barnum, married to the tiny superstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, she charmed riverboat gamblers and bewitched the rich and powerful.

Although I hate using the back cover synopsis for my reviews, I felt I had to in this case. There is so much going on in this book, that its hard to think of a way to sum it all up. To say its about Mercy Lavinia’s life (Vinnie was her preferred nickname), is an understatement. It takes us back to a time forgotten in American history. Vinnie’s life story guides us before, during and after the civil war. I thought the author did an effortless job weaving in moments of history throughout the course of the novel. Vinnie interacts with different dignitaries and notable names throughout the course of her career and life with P.T. Barnum’s traveling show.

I did sob at certain points in the book, and I did feel terrible that Vinnie could never let her guard down, even with her husband. Keeping people at arm’s length was her biggest source of protection. At times it made her a very harsh and cold person. It was hard to see her vulnerabilities because she would never let herself think of them. She was incredibly strong-willed and was not afraid to speak her mind.

Its taken me a month to review this book because the final image of General Tom Thumb, Vinnie’s sister Minnie, and the entire life that she lived left me feeling very…melancholic. Winnie deserved a life filled with love, but she always kept her guard up and strong.

This is a wonderful book of American history, of the unknown and forgotten celebrities of an era only remembered by injustice, violence and war. This book is a  reminder of why America is so unique, and that even if you are less than 3-feet tall, its still possible to have dreams big enough to take you across the ocean onto a world tour.

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Book 33 of 2011

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Call Me Kate – Review

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Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maguires by Molly Roe

Age: Teen

Call Me Kate takes place towards the beginning of the Civil War. Katie is a 14-year-old girl living in a small Pennsylvania coil mining town. After a mining accident that severely injures her father, Katie has to help her family survive and make ends meet. During a time of great prejudice and tension, Irish men in particular are sent to fight in the war if they are unable to repay $300 in debts. A secret Irish organization known as the Molly Maquires are planning something big and dangerous to counteract these standards. After finding out that a close friend of hers has become involved with this group, Katie decides that she has to do something about it.

I felt that Kate, was a very strong girl for the times. Her courage in keeping her family together during such an emotional and tumultuous times is inspirational and admirable. One thing that popped up for me while reading this book is that it would be a great piece of historical fiction for teen reading assignments. I could recommend this more for the younger teens. But it is a fascinating look at a piece of history we don’t really learn about in school.

Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maquires
by Molly Roe
Tribute Books, 2009
ISBN 0-9814619-3-9
— Sent for Review by Tribute Books —

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Call me Kate : meeting the Molly Maguires

Author Information – from Tribute Books

Molly Roe Blog:
http://conversationsfromthesideporch.blogspot.com/

Molly Roe Bio:
Molly Roe is the pen name of Mary Garrity Slaby, a veteran language arts & reading teacher at Lake-Lehman Junior Senior High School. Mary holds a Ph.D. in education from Temple University, and Pennsylvania teaching certification in six areas. She has pursued the hobby of genealogy for the past decade. Mary was born in Philadelphia, raised in Schuylkill County, and currently lives in Dallas, Pennsylvania with her husband, John. They are parents of two grown children, Melissa and John Garrett, cover illustrator of Call Me Kate. Digging into the past has given Mary newfound respect for her ancestors and a better understanding of history. Call Me Kate is the first in the author’s trilogy of historical novels loosely based on the lives of the strong women who preceded her.

Remarkable Creatures – Review

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Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Age: YA/Adult

Remarkable Creatures is a historical fiction piece by Tracy Chevalier, best known for her wildly acclaimed Girl with a Pearl Earring. Remarkable Creatures is the story of two female anthropologists in the early 1800s England. Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot were two of the nation’s most valuable resources and finders of fossil specimens that changed the face of scientific and religious study. Because of their social standing and because they were female, they were hardly given the recognition for their work until after their deaths.

Mary Anning came from a struggling, lower class family in continual debt until she one day finds a “monster” embedded in the cliffs of her hometown. Elizabeth Philpot is a “spinster” living with her two other sisters after her brother’s marriage. Although Elizabeth comes from a family of high social standing, she and Mary Anning form a fast and strong friendship in a beach town of Lyme Regis. Eventually, Elizabeth becomes the voice for Mary Anning in a world of  elite men, who by instinctual default, deny women the right to participate in any scientific study or research. This novel is a story of their friendship.

I listened to this work on audio cd, thus confirming my beliefs that I can only listen to audio books when the narrator has an accent. I really enjoyed Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Remarkable Creatures was just as well written and researched if not better. Chevalier has a wonderful way of bringing her characters to life and proving the reader with a pure sense of the time. I loved the way she described the characters as leading with their hands, or eyes, or chins. These are subtle but telling ways of a characters personality and idiosyncrasies.

I did a fair amount of research on Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, as my interest in the two women was further encouraged by this story of their struggle for just basic recognition for their magnificent finds. Neither woman was allowed to partake in any of the scientific discussion or analysis of their fossil finds. Usually their name wasn’t even associated with the piece on display. The book was comedic, serious, compassionate and had a very smooth flow. I like the alternating chapters between Elizabeth’s and Mary’s stories. I loved that the chapters did not overlap, or tell the same story through two perspectives. Instead, where one ended, the other picked up, continuing the story.

This is a great read for fans of history, inspiring women and remarkable creatures of eras long past.

Remarkable Creatures
by Tracy Chevalier
Read by Charlotte Perry and Susan Lyons
Penguin, 2010
ISBN 9780143145301
8 discs, 10 hours

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