What’s Ashley Reading?: Hour of the Witch

Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

First line: It was always possible that the Devil was present.

Summary: Mary Deerfield, a young married woman in 1662 Boston, has been hiding a secret from her friends and family. In the years that she has been married her husband has hit her numerous times while drunk for imagined slights against him. But then one day he takes his cruelty one step further. He drives a three-tined fork, the Devil’s tines, into her hand. With a strong conviction of finally divorcing her abusive husband she also faces suspicion from the Puritan community. She finds that she is suspected of things that could lead her to a death on the gallows.

My Thoughts: This book started very slowly for me. Much of it dealt with the time period, life and getting to know the characters and their history. I felt that story finally picked up after the divorce trial. The pace seemed to be faster and the story more intriguing. But once the story picked up I was completely enthralled but disgusted by everything.

It is hard sometimes to read historical books, especially if the author writes them accurately. I feel like the author brought to life the true sense of the ridiculousness of Puritan Boston. Their views on women, the Devil and anything that was different. I rolled my eyes so many times during the trials because of the hearsay, circumstantial evidence and belief system of the time. Reading these types of books we see how far society has come but we still have a long way to go as well.

I enjoyed Mary’s story. She was a strong woman in a very restrictive society. She endures a lot throughout the book and much of it at no fault of her own. I was definitely rooting for her the whole time. I wanted things to be better for her with every disappointment and injury. But her husband and many of the other characters were awful people that I could not wait to see the end of.

I do not know how I feel about the ending. It almost seemed like a cop-out. Too easy of an ending but at the same time I liked aspects of it. Rating this was difficult but I think that it was worth the read.

FYI: Wonderful historical fiction. Perfect if you are interested in colonial America and the Salem Witch Trials.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Hunger

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

First line: Everyone agreed it had been a bad winter, one of the worst in recollection.

Summary: A wagon train of settlers head out from Independence, Missouri, who would later be known as the Donner Party. They are bound for the bountiful lands of California. Among them is Tamsen Donner, who some believe to be a witch. And when strange things start to occur along the trail many look towards her for someone to blame. As they cover the long miles over prairie, desert and mountains, members of the party begin to change. Will the group be able to make it to the promised land of California or die trying to take the shortcut?

My Thoughts: Practically everyone has heard of the ill-fated Donner Party. They spent a long winter in the mountains on their way to California. After several of the party are rescued there has been rumors and debate about if the survivors resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. The story is such a dark piece of history which I think is what makes it so fascinating to so many people.

This book was recommended to me and I used it as part of my Traveler’s Reading Challenge. I had really high hopes of a spooky story mixed with cannibals. But I felt that there was a lot of build up to an ending that wasn’t as good as I had hoped. I expected to spend a lot more time in the mountains and the cold months. But this only was a small portion at the very end. It was a fun read for someone interested in a twist on history.

FYI: The author’s next book is The Deep which gives a twist to the story of the Titanic.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Nature of Fragile Things

The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

First line: Interview with Mrs. Sophie Hocking conducted by Ambrose Logan, U.S. Marshal

Summary: When Sophie Whalen, a young Irish immigrant, answers a personal ad for a wife and mother to an man in San Francisco she sees this as an opportunity for a better life. She leaves her life in tenements of New York City for a man she has never met. Upon arrival she finds her new husband to be distant but she immediately falls in love with her step-daughter, Kat.

However, on a fateful evening a woman shows up on her doorstep with a story that throws her world into chaos. As these women decide what to do with their new information, tragedy strikes in the form of the largest natural disasters in California history. They must survive the earthquake, its aftermath and the secret that they now hold.

My Thoughts: Susan Meissner is a wonderful writer. She brings to life stories of remarkable women. I can always tell she does lots of research and builds intricate lives for her characters. I enjoyed the story, the history and the ending. It was a wonderful twisting plot with little surprises.

I was not too familiar with the events of the San Francisco earthquake. This was one of the main reasons I picked to read this book. It gave me a little bit more insight into what it must have been like. Having now experienced minor earthquakes here in Kansas, I cannot imagine having to live through one such as this.

And as always there is a little twist at the end which just makes the book that much better.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Kate Quinn and Marie Benedict.

Linda’s Favorite Books: News of Our Loved Ones

News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail Dewitt

First Line: Sirens. Was that what she’d heard? Yvonne dreamed about air raids when there weren’t any, slept soundly through the actual warnings.

Summary: The Delasalle family of Normandy, France have been under Nazi rule in their village for four years. They have watched as their Jewish neighbors have been arrested and disappeared. Now in June 1944 the sirens wail each day as the Allied invasion is approaching. After a bomb destroys their home, 16 year-old Yvonne survives, but other family members lose their lives.

Yvonne’s sister, Genevieve, is in Paris to audition for the National Conservatory. While playing her violin, she does not know that her family’s home has been destroyed. While Genevieve plays, her brother and aunt await news from their loved ones in Normandy.

Decades later, Genevieve is married to an American musician and lives in the United States. Each summer she returns to her homeland with her children so they may know of their French family.

Thoughts: This story moves back and forth in time, with various characters telling their points of view. This book shows how family histories are shared and shows how powerful storytelling helps us understand the past and who we are.

I like this story as it was different in its theme and content to what I usually read about family. At first it was hard to keep the characters straight but I soon learned who each member was and it became more interesting. I would recommend this story for its family theme and historical venue.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

First line: I could not have written a more perfect man.

Summary: Agatha Christie, one of the most famous mystery writers of the twentieth century has gone missing. A widespread manhunt ensues looking for the missing author. Meanwhile, her husband is hiding secrets of his own. As time progresses and Agatha is not found more suspicion is placed on Archie. Then suddenly after eleven days Agatha reappears with no recollection of what happened or where she had been. What happened during these days? It is a mystery that is still yet to be uncovered.

My Thoughts: Several years ago I remember hearing about the disappearance of the Agatha Christie. It sounds like one of her stories but was actually true. I was really excited when I saw that Marie Benedict was going to bring this piece of history to life. Benedict does a great job of giving voice to historical women who time has forgotten. Even though Christie is famous, this part of her life was not as well known.

I liked the alternating time periods and perspectives. We see the beginning of the romance between Agatha and Archie. We see the progression of their lives together. But then we see how Archie deals with Agatha’s disappearance. I kept having to stop myself from Googling the case in order to avoid how the author’s reappearance happens. I liked that it was a short novel that was quick to read and gives a little more insight into such a prolific writer. I now have to read more of Christie’s novels starting with The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Melanie Benjamin and Agatha Christie, of course.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Dark Tides

Dark Tides by Philippa Gregory

First line: The ramshackle warehouse was on the wrong side of the river, the south side, where the buildings jostled for space and the little boats unloaded pocket-size cargos for scant profit.

Summary: Twenty-two years have passed since the events at Foulmire. Alinor and Alys have established themselves in a warehouse along the Thames with a decent income from sailors and merchants. But on the same day two people happen into their lives that will change it once again. Sir James who has spent years in exile is looking for his child. And Rob’s widow from Venice arrives with their young son. The women try to deal with these changes the best they can.

On the other side of the ocean, in New England, Ned has traveled in the hopes of starting a new life where he is free and far from the reaches of the King he hates. But even with an ocean between his old and new life he finds that things are still the same. He has befriended the native people and learned much from them but he is looked down upon for this from his fellow Englishman. He is stuck between two worlds and doesn’t know which side to choose.

My Thoughts: Once again Philippa Gregory writes a stunning book! I loved this just as much as the first one in the trilogy but for different reasons. The first part was very character driven and where the landscape plays an important role. This one is more plot driven but has strong characters and amazing locations. From the very beginning I was strongly invested in the story. At one point I had to put the book down because I was so frustrated with the characters.

I loved being back with Alinor even though she was not the main character anymore. This centered more on her brother, daughter and granddaughter. A new generation of the Reekie family in a new time. The picture of these poor women striving for a living along the Thames is perfectly done. And then we visit Venice in the second half of the story. I can picture the canals, gondolas, and beautiful buildings. I visited Venice years ago and loved the city on the water.

Ned’s life in New England reminded me so much of Gregory’s book, Virgin Earth, with her beautiful descriptions of the forests of America before the settlers cleared the lands. The plants, the people and wildness of the land comes alive in her telling. It is so hard to read about the past at times when you see all the injustices that were done. Settlers took advantage of the natives and treated them terribly.

FYI: This is book two in the Fairmile Trilogy.

Linda’s Favorite Books: A Bridge Across the Ocean

A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

First Line: A friend’s baby shower was the last place Brette Caslake expected to encounter a ghost.

Summary: It’s 1946 World War 2 is over and Annaliese Lange, a German ballerina, and Simone Deveraux, the wronged daughter of a French Resistance spy are among the hundreds of European war brides aboard the RMS Queen Mary crossing the Atlantic to be reunited with their American husbands. But secrets come to light in their shared stateroom and when the ship lands in New York Harbor, only one of them embarks.

PRESENT DAY. Brette Caslake is facing difficult decisions in her life when she visits the famously haunted Queen Mary. What she finds there will cause her to solve a seventy-year old tragedy that will shake her mentally, and emotionally concerning the heartaches and triumphs of the war brides.

Thoughts: I enjoyed this book as I am an avid reader of historical fiction, especially books based on true stories of World War 2. I learned about the lives of war brides and how difficult it would be to come to America to start a new life with a husband and family they barely knew. I would recommend this book as a great historical fiction book!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The First Actress

The First Actress by C. W. Gortner

First line: If great talent can arise from adversity, mine must have been forged in the cauldron of my childhood.

Summary: The most famous actress of her time, Sarah Bernhardt, rose from obscurity to stardom in France. She was the daughter of a high-class courtesan. She is raised in a convent until her mother decides to start her in the family trade even though Sarah has hopes of being an actress. With the help of influential men like Alexandre Dumas she gets her chance to shine of on the stage and become a worldwide superstar. But even with stardom comes tragedy too.

My Thoughts: Before reading this I had never heard of Sarah Bernhardt but after finishing it I want to know even more. Her life had so many ups and downs. She achieved so much in a time when women still had very little power. She used her skills and strong will to rise. She may have had help but she knew who she was and what she wanted and took it. And she used her influence to help others like during the Franco-Prussian War, another event that I knew very little about.

Unfortunately, most of Sarah’s work was on the stage and before motion pictures and sound but there are a few examples from early recordings that can be found on Youtube. Even though her acting would be out of date in the present at the time it was revolutionary. She changed the way actors spoke to the audience and portrayed the characters on stage. We are lucky to have any piece of her and her skills available for us to see.

Gortner is a phenomenal historical fiction author. He really makes the story gripping. He brings the women he writes about to life. I learn more about the time period then I have ever known while being entertained by the story.

FYI: I highly recommend Gortner’s last book, The Romanov Empress, about the mother of Czar Nicholas II of Russia.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Katheryn Howard, the Scandalous Queen

Katheryn Howard, the Scandalous Queen by Alison Weir

First line: Katheryn was seven when her mother died.

Summary: Katheryn Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, lead a very scandalous life before her marriage. She grew up as a charity case, living off of the kindness of family. However, she got the great chance of living with her step-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. While there she meets several men who she falls quickly in and out of love with. And then one day she earns a place among Queen Anna of Kleves household which puts her in the path of the King. She is delighted but when the King sets his sights on her she begins to worry that her past will catch up with her.

My Thoughts: I have enjoyed all of Weir’s Six Wives books. I think she did a great job bringing Katheryn’s story to life. Unfortunately the girl made some terrible mistakes and had to pay for them so dearly. I learned more about her earlier life. I was fairly familiar with her time in the Duchess’ household and in Henry’s court but before that was a mystery to me.

It’s sad that she was pushed around from house to house. It makes it easy for me to see why she was constantly looking for someone to love and love her back. Out of all the women I think her story is the saddest. She was so young. She was being maneuvered by her family into the King’s life. She had very little choice over her life. I am looking forward to the final novel about Katherine Parr.

FYI: There are several intimate scenes throughout her story.

Anni’s Book Pick: The War That Saved My Life

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Summary: Born with a clubfoot nine-year-old Ada Smith suffers not only the frustration and pain to the physical condition but the sting of her mother’s abuse and shame as well.

This book is about a young girl and her brother who live with their mother. The mother is abusive and ashamed of her daughter due to a club foot. The book starts before the war where we get a glimpse at the horrible life that Ada and Jamie are living. Ada being born with a clubfoot has received her mother’s shame for her whole life sitting at a window to see the world and not allowed to leave the apartment, which is where they live.

As the story goes on Ada and her brother, Jamie, see other young children their age going to the country where they will be safe from bombs. Ada and her brother sneak out one night and go to live in the country. Life in the country was good, almost perfect until their mother arrived.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed this book not only because it was historically accurate, but because it brought the story to real life. When reading this book I felt that I knew Ada and Jamie personally, I think the author did an excellent job relating to the characters in the story. I think this book would be a good book for the whole family because it is friendly and there is no profanity or gruesome scenes.

This story really brought the life of children during the war to life. The story shows the struggles of children and the struggles of parents during these hard times. Ada had to leave her home and even though she really wanted to go out and see the world once she was in the country she really missed being home. Overall this story is a great story for all ages, and it can really help children and parents understand life during World War II.