Did you have as much fun reading in August as I did? I read some entertaining historical fiction and a couple of books that were not pleasant to read but needed to be read. Today’s blog post is about three-and-a-half of the five-and-a-half books I read last month. I’ll blog about the other two next week.
Searching for Sylvie Lee, by Jean Kwok
I took a break from historical fiction to read Searching for Sylvie, by Jean Kwok. Otherwise, I’ve sort of been swimming in a sea of World War I and World War II novels.
Searching for Sylvie takes you on a rollercoaster ride through the secrets held within a family. The title comes from the main plot line of one sister leaving the United States to go to The Netherlands to look for her missing sister. One of them was raised in America by her biological parents. The other one is raised in The Netherlands by a loving grandmother and spiteful aunt.
Several characters are introduced who knew one of both of the sisters. Lots of surprises are revealed as the story unfolds and the sister who grew up in America is determined to find her lost sister who was last seen in The Netherlands.
My hat’s off to the author, Jean Kwok, for keeping all the saucers spinning on sticks until all is revealed in the end. (Those of you who grew up watching “The Ed Sullivan Show” on TV on Sunday nights will get my analogy.)
The Victory Garden, by Rhys Bowen
After reading The Tuscan Child, by Rhys Bowen last year, I was eager to read her next standalone novel, The Victory Garden. This British author, who now lives in the United States, has written a great many books. She has written books in four different series and won numerous awards.
I haven’t read any of her serial books, but I really enjoyed The Tuscan Child (see my March 26, 2018 blog, https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/03/26/some-march-reading/) and The Victory Garden.
A historical mystery set in England during World War I, The Victory Garden takes us into the lives of several young women from various economic backgrounds who join the Women’s Land Army. I wasn’t familiar with it, so I was immediately delighted to learn something new. With virtually all the young men off fighting the war, England was in dire need of able-bodied women to voluntarily join the Women’s Land Army and work on farms. Otherwise, there would be no food.
The book follows several of those young women but focuses on Emily Bryce, who was from an upper class family. Her parents were embarrassed for her to work on farms, but she turned 21 and was determined to do her part for the war effort and find her own way in the world.
Along the way, Emily makes some surprising friendships. You will cheer for her and grieve with her. You won’t soon forget her.
Oh – another thing I learned was how class-conscious the British were in the 1910s.
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
This is Colson Whitehead’s second novel. I enjoyed reading his debut novel, The Underground Railroad, a couple of years ago. Here’s a link to my March 3, 2017 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/03/03/what-i-read-in-february-2017/, if you want to read what I had to say about that book.
Mr. Whitehead’s inspiration for writing The Nickel Boys was the infamous Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. A The Tampa Bay Times’ investigative reporter blew the lid off that school horrible history in the early 2010s.
The Nickel Boys is divided into three parts. The first part is about the life of an African American teen named Elwood before he got sent to the reform school for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Elwood worked and studied hard and was on the verge of going to college when his life turned upside down.
The second part of the book gives the somewhat gory details of Elwood’s life at the Nickel Academy. Turner is his best friend there. The white boys were segregated from the black boys. None of the boys were treated well, but the black boys caught the brunt of the beatings, torture, and “disappearances.”
The third part jumps ahead to life after reform school with some backstory of things that happened there. A lot of Part Three seemed disjointed to me but made more sense the longer I read.
Perhaps I was just on horrible reform school details overload by the time I got to Part Three, but it just didn’t hold my attention like the first two parts did. I persevered, though, and the last pages were good. I’m glad I finished reading it. I don’t want to give too much away, but Part Three includes the details of an escape Elwood and Turner made. It did not go well for one of them.
There was a reform (or “training”) school for boys about ten miles from where I lived as a child. It was run by the State of North Carolina, and some of the employees, house parents, and teachers at the school were people I saw every Sunday at church. I couldn’t help but think about the Stonewall Jackson Training School as I read The Nickel.
I hope to goodness it wasn’t operated like The Nickel – or the reform school the book is based on. Many of the boys at Jackson Training School were orphans and not juvenile delinquents. They learned farming, woodworking, and other trades that enabled them to get jobs when they completed their time there.
Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini
Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini, is a historical novel set in 1930s Germany.
I listened to half of Resistance Women but didn’t feel motivated to listen to the second half. I have a hunch there would have been a different outcome if I’d been reading the physical book. I wanted to like this book.
The main things I took away from Resistance Women were the numerous examples of the insidious way Adolph Hitler took over Germany in the 1930s. Each one sent off an alarm bell in my head for parallels in the United States of America today.
If not for any other reason, for that alone it was well-worth the ten hours I devoted to listening to the first half of the novel. I’ll give it another chance in printed form.
Since my last blog post
I’ve been reading!
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I look forward to reading more good books this month.
If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.
Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.
Let’s continue the conversation
What have you read recently that you’d recommend to the rest of us?