Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review: The Mapmaker's Children

It is no secret that I love historical fiction; however, when the book is set in a location that I know and have been to....I am sold! When I saw that The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy was set fairly close to where David and I used to live in Northern Virginia, I was intrigued and knew I needed the book.

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Set in the Harper's Ferry/Charlestown area on the border of Virginia and West Virginia, The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy tells two stories: one set pre-Civil War and the other in present time.

In 1859, Sarah Brown, the daughter of abolitionist John Brown, chooses to follow her own path in life, rather than conforming to the expectations of society. She is a talented artist and uses this skill to create maps for the Underground Railroad, since many of the escaping slaves were illiterate, but could understand pictures. She even tries to save her father from being put to death by smuggling a map to him in prison, but to no avail.

Sort of, but not exactly, mirroring the same story line of rebellion in present time, Eden is a woman who gave up her PR/marketing job to move to a historic home in West Virginia with her husband Jack. She and Jack have been unsuccessfully trying to have a baby, which is putting a major strain on their marriage. 

Eden's storyline starts off a little dull and she comes across as a serious brat towards the little girl whom Jack is paying to care for their new dog, but I eventually warmed to her, especially when the two main characters' rebellions became more clear. While Sarah's rebellion is very in-your-face, Eden's is quieter. She is rebelling against what contemporary society deems to be female--someone who selflessly gives herself to her family, bearing her husband children, while also being independent and working...obviously not realistic, but that is how women are portrayed in the media today.

I absolutely adored Sarah's chapters and found her to be incredibly strong, both as a character in a novel and as a historical figure of that time period. And while I appreciated the juxposition of the two women, I really could have done without the hot and cold nature of Eden. I could not decide if I liked her or wanted to throttle her because of her treatment of everyone around her, including her new dog. All in all, though, The Mapmaker's Children was a fast read, one where I found myself wishing it had gone on for another few chapters, and I give it a 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Book Review: The House of Hawthorne

I was first introduced to Erika Robuck a few years ago when I stumbled across a copy of Hemingway's Girl at the library. I found the story enthralling and finished it in a day. It did not take me long to read all of Robuck's other novels that had been published up until that point and then I began pre-ordering her novels each year. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, so it is no surprise that I would enjoy Robuck's novels; however, what makes me love them is that she chooses to writer about people who are associated with famous writers....writers whom I adore and teach in school. So far, Robuck has written about those associated with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, so when she announced her newest novel, I was really excited to see what would she come up with about Nathaniel Hawthorne. 

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Let me start by saying that prior to reading The House of Hawthorne, I knew next to nothing about Nathaniel Hawthorne and his life. While I teach The Scarlet Letter and various short stories to my 11th graders each year, my knowledge beyond his writing is minimal. The House of Hawthorne, rather than focusing on the more well-known author, focuses primarily on his wife Sophia.

Sophia is a young, sickly woman, who spends part of her early years in Cuba in order to have some time to recuperate in a tropical climate. Cuba changes Sophia'a life. The exotic atmosphere and environment inspire her as an artist. She feels her first attraction to a man and gives up all thoughts of remaining unmarried and dedicated to her art. She also encounters the horrors of slavery, something that stays with her throughout her life.

Upon returning from Cuba, she meets Nathaniel Hawthorne and the two immediately become enamored with one another.

The love between Nathaniel and Sophia is intense and is evident in their letters and other artifacts used to recreate their story; however, there is more to the novel than just a love story. The reader is able to live through Nathaniel Hawthorne's struggles of trying to make a living as a writing right alongside him. There are mentions of the Hawthorne's lives and friendships with Henry David Thoreau, the Emersons, and the Alcotts; the impact of the fighting in the colonies and how that directly influenced the family as they settled in England; and the tragedies and hardships of simply living during that time period. 

It is evident that Robuck did an immense amount of research and the result is a story that is not only believable, but exciting about two well-known literary and historical figures. Overall, I give The House of Hawthorne an 8.5 out of 10, as there were a few slower-paced parts of the novel. For the most part, though, I found the novel to be incredibly well-written and engaging.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Happy Mother's Day!!!

As David and I are off to an out of town wedding this weekend, we are not able to spend Mother's Day with either of our moms. So, I wanted to write a special Mother's Day post to the most wonderful mom I know. 

My mom is absolutely wonderful. She is welcoming towards everyone she meets and just automatically loves them. Not only does she continue to take care of her family, but she is essentially the one who takes care of her entire school. We joke that the building must completely shut down when she is not there, but in reality, I think that is probably more realistic than a joke at this point. I am incredibly lucky to have her as a mom and I know that when it comes time for me to have children of my own, I have an excellent role model in my mother. 

Happy Mother's Day, Mom! You are fantastic and we could not have been more blessed to have you as our mom. Love you! :)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book Review: The Hidden Child

The other weekend, I went up to Washington, DC to visit the husband while he was at a weeklong nerd conference and along the way, I stopped at an adorable little bookstore in Arlington, One More Page Books. I spent way too much time, and money, in there, but it was so worth it. One of the books I purchased was published a few years ago, but the premise quickly shot it to the top of my "must read" list: psychological thriller about a woman uncovering WW2 family secrets. Yes please!

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The Hidden Child is the seventh book in the series by Camilla Lackberg (definitely did not know it was part of a series until after I finished it...oops!) that follows the lives of Patrik Hedstrom, a homicide detective, and Erica Falck, a true crime writer. 

A year after having their child and with Patrik home on paternity leave, Erica is getting back to work and writing a new novel. At the same time though, she finds an old Nazi medal mixed in with a trunk of her mother's old diaries. She takes the medal to a local historian, who is unfortunately murdered shortly after. This murder opens up a mystery that involves Erica's mother and other people who lived during the 1940s and the war. Erica becomes more involved in the mystery because of what she finds out about her mother. 

This is the first of Lackberg's novels I have read and while I really enjoyed the mystery and crime aspects of the story, I was actually somewhat taken aback by how much non-crime material there was. At 400 pages, the novel is stuffed with characters and personal stories. I understand that the reader would feel somewhat attached to the characters if they had read all the six previous books in the series, but there is just way too much to keep track of. I think I counted over forty named characters, so I found myself frequently thinking, "Who is this person and why is he here?" throughout the novel.

Other than that, the only thing I really did not enjoy were the mini-cliffhangers that interrupted the pages. Stories are told as short doses for each character. Lackberg would focus on one character for a page for two and then jump to the next character, oftentimes when new information was just being revealed, forcing the reader to wait until that character's next narration to learn what was so important. At the beginning of the story when there was not a whole lot happening, this was fine, but as the novel progressed, it became mildly annoying. 

Overall, I really enjoyed The Hidden Child and found the final revelations both plausible and interesting, earning this novel a 7 out of 10. I am definitely going to look into reading more novels by Lackberg.