Flashback Friday

Here’s a review I published earlier that I hope you will enjoy.

Themes: weather, adversity, family, faith, science
Setting: January 1888, Dakota territory, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska

January on the prairie is never exactly balmy. The weather had been very cold all month. Then it warmed up for a while – not a lot, but enough that people seized the chance to get outside and tend to a few neglected chores, repairing the roof, feeding the livestock, bringing in more fuel for the fire, and sending the kids to school. All of which put them into danger.

Weathermen today love to talk about the “warm before the storm,” and this was a classic example. The storm hit with incredible power, bringing punishing winds and very fine, stinging snow that covered everything outside in minutes. Those folks caught away from home were in big trouble. And many of them were the school children.

Laskin seems to have done his research on this one. The stories of the children were amazing and often heartbreaking. That part was very good. But what I didn’t enjoy as much was the story of the Signal Corps and the effort to place blame for the number of deaths caused by the storm. It was a blizzard. The blizzard was to blame.

Seriously, it’s hard to see how things could have ended any differently. It was 1888. There were no satellite weather imaging thingies. There wasn’t even reliable radio. The weather stations themselves weren’t even equipped with telegraph lines linking them up to each other. And if there were, how were they supposed to broadcast their weather forecasts? Forecasting then was even more a matter of absolute luck and guesswork. But there was no way to make them public anyway. They had some sort of flags and alerts they issued, I wasn’t quite clear on that, but no one in the little prairie towns could have known about them. It wasn’t like they put the forecasts in the newspaper or on the radio.

I felt that this technical part took too much focus away from the part that I really found good, which was about the storm itself and how people managed to survive or didn’t. This other bit about the science of it all was just a distraction. I wound up skipping most of that. Still, it was a good book and I would recommend it. It’s just that compared to The Worst Hard Time, I knew that it could have been much better. 3.25 stars


Review – Not from the Stars

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. My open remains my own.

Title: Not From the Stars (His Majesty’s Theatre, book 1)

Author: Christina Britton Conroy

Synopsis: Filled with the history of the British theatre and allusions to Shakespeare, Not From the Stars is the first in the His Majesty’s Theatre series about the lives of the actors and academics who lived in the repressive days of Edwardian England, but refused to be stifled.

Even though I’m not an actor myself and haven’t been On stage since high school, for some reason I have a soft spot for books about the theater. Add an historical setting, and I’m there! So this book set in the world of English theatre 1885 sounded really interesting.

Established actor Jerry O’Connell is attracting attention – and not the good kind. Rumors fly that he and his make co-star are a little too close, and the police are taking notice. He tries to be discreet, but when he meets a desperate young ingenue he realizes that they can help each other. She needs a place to live, he needs a cover. Together they set up house and both are their careers take off.

Meanwhile young Elisa Roundtree is torn between an uncaring father and a cruel fiance. She finds a brief happiness at school, but things soon grow more complicated.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I was more interested in the actors and their lives than in Elisa. I didn’t agree with some of the choices she made. But it was really an eye opener to read about the laws regarding homosexuality. For some reason I didn’t realize that this was the first in a series and I expected things to be more resolved at the end of this book. It’s not a cliffhanger exactly, but just the first installment of a longer story.

If you like historical fiction, I would a definitely recommend this one. It’s available on Kindle Unlimited right now so you should check it out.


Currently reading

I’ve been so focused on my writing that I haven’t been reading much this month. But I do have my current books I want to tell you about!

This one is a true crime story called Goat Castle. It’s about the murder of an heiress in Mississippi. I got it from Net Galley and it sounds really good; however, I haven’t gotten far enough into it to tell for sure. Here’s the description though:

In 1932, the city of Natchez, Mississippi, reckoned with an unexpected influx of journalists and tourists as the lurid story of a local murder was splashed across headlines nationwide. Two eccentrics, Richard Dana and Octavia Dockery–known in the press as the -Wild Man- and the -Goat Woman—enlisted an African American man named George Pearls to rob their reclusive neighbor, Jennie Merrill, at her estate. During the attempted robbery, Merrill was shot and killed. The crime drew national coverage when it came to light that Dana and Dockery, the alleged murderers, shared their huge, decaying antebellum mansion with their goats and other livestock, which prompted journalists to call the estate – Goat Castle.

The second book I’m reading is by an author I first found through book club. If you follow my blog you know I’m not always a fan of our book club picks, but we read The All Girl’s Filling Stations Reunion by Fannie Flagg and it was so much fun. This one is called Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven and it is set in the fictional town of Elmwood Springs, Missouri and I’m loving it. I’m about 1/3 of the way in. It was one of my thrift store finds this month and I’m glad I picked it up. These are great books for when you’re in the mood for a light, funny read. They’d be a lot of fun on audio too.

Combining southern warmth with unabashed emotion and side-splitting hilarity, Fannie Flagg takes readers back to Elmwood Springs, Missouri, where the most unlikely and surprising experiences of a high-spirited octogenarian inspire a town to ponder the age-old question: Why are we here?



Which brings me to my last book, The Execution of Sherlock Holmes. It’s a collection of five Holmes-inspired short stories. The first one has Holmes kidnapped and awaiting his execution on “crimes” against a criminal gang. Basically it was a locked room escape story, and I really liked it. I didn’t like the second story about cracking some code – boring to listen to – but the rest have been good. I’m listening to this one in the car and it’s been very interesting.



That’s what I’m reading. I have a few I need to get to soon, including looking through MY book club pick, Daughter of a Pirate King. What are you reading? Are you liking it? Let me know!

Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

I’m running an encore review today as I have a family event all day today. I have several new reviews I want to post and a Mega Blitz post coming up for R & R Book Tours, but for today I hope you enjoy reading about this one.

Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Author: Jacqueline Kelly

Calpurnia, known as Callie Vee to her 6 brothers, is not one of those quiet, homemaking type of girls. She likes being outdoors, studying nature. The hot summer of 1899 marked a big change in her life. That was the year that she made friends with her Granddaddy and became a naturalist.

But Calpurnia’s mother is not giving up her only daughter without a fight. She’s forced into piano lessons, needlework lessons, cooking lessons, and knitting lessons. Knitting isn’t so bad, at least when it’s a wet and rainy day, but they all make her feel completely inadequate. Is she doomed to be nothing but a wife and mother? And what’s the rush? She’s only 11!

This story was set in the dawning of a new era, with the coming of the first telephone – and first FEMALE telephone operator, the first automobile, and yet the ties to the past, with Granddaddy and his stories of service in the Civil War. Then the excitement of New Year’s Eve, and a new century!

When I started reading this one, it made me think back to my own summers in Texas, with the heat reaching over 100 for days in a row, when we would turn our bathtub into a little swimming pool, and the heat would turn everything into a dead brown landscape, make my nosebleed, and then bake the blood right onto the sidewalk. At least we could occasionally escape to my Grandma’s air conditioned living room. But Calpurnia has no escape except her private swimming hole.

I loved this book. I was a little disappointed by the end, which is why I took off half a star. I hope this is the first in a series; otherwise, Calpurnia is just sort of hanging at the end of the story. While I am very happy being a wife and mother, I understand her feeling of being trapped into a narrow role she has no way to fight. It’s a choice between her mother’s way, or some unknown way, and Calpurnia really has no idea what else is out there for her. I have to hope that the coming years will reveal some new possibilities to her and give her the strength to choose her own life. 4.5 stars

Review: A Lady in the Smoke


Review: A Lady in the Smoke

Author: Karen Odden

Format: audiobook

Setting: 1874 England

Themes: love, family, medicine, addiction, revenge, politics, law

Lady Elizabeth Fraser and her mother are returning home after a miserable London Season only to be involved in a train wreck. Elizabeth has a minor concussion and her mother’s ankle is sprained, but she can’t manage anything without Elizabeth’s help. Only handsome Dr. Wilcox is able to provide the care her mother needs. Elizabeth is drawn to the young man, but such a match would never be permitted by Society. Elizabeth knows this, but her heart refuses to listen. She’s drawn into Dr. Wilcox’s life, his crusade for safer railway conditions, and the bitter struggle against his powerful enemies.

I found this one while browsing the titles my library had available for online audiobooks, and I have to say I was hooked. I love a good historical mystery and this one was very promising. Victorian setting, star-crossed lovers, class struggles, and a new author, it was lots of fun. Definitely recommended.


Book Club: Life With Father

father_sonMy book club’s pick for April was the old book, Life With Father by Clarence Day, Jr. We had our meeting last night and we all had a great time.

The book is written as a memoir by the oldest son, who recalls growing up with an autocratic serious father in New York City in the 1880s. At first, I couldn’t stand Clare, as the dad was called. He was strict, grouchy, authoritarian and humorless. But as I got into the book, I began to pick up on the humor of a man who despite knowing exactly how the world ought to be run, finds that people around him never quite go along with his plans. The humor of the situation began to grow on me and I wound up enjoying the book.

One of the best parts of the book was the setting. I loved reading about the ice delivery, about dining at Delmonico’s, about installing the newfangled telephone. Eventually I decided that dads haven’t changed much in the last 120 years after all.

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Working class look at Elizabeth Bennett

This book has been getting a lot of buzz, and it’s not hard to see why. Jane Austen is still hot, and thanks to Downton Abbey, readers are curious about the split between how the upper crust and the working class. We’re already familiar about the world of Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. The book is still super popular, with film versions, graphic novels, and so many spinoffs it’s impossible to keep track. You may be wondering if we really need one more.


You see, most of the other versions still revolve around Elizabeth and Darcy – new takes on their romance, throwing a zombie or vampire in there, adding some sex, looking at what happens after the wedding, making them spies, and on and on. But what about the other characters in the story? What about some characters that aren’t really even named as characters, but still contribute to the story? Like, say, the servants?

The main characters of the original book are still here, but only at the fringes. In English major terms, this is a Marxist look at Pride & Prejudice.  The real story revolves around the household staff:  Mr. and Mrs. Hill, Sara the housemaid, little Polly the kitchen maid, and the new footman, James.  The arrival of James, who clearly has a secret, has upset the household routine. In fact, everyone in the story has a secret, from Mrs. Hill’s past, to Mr. Hill’s romantic persuasion, to the handsome coachman visiting at the Bingley’s estate.

The book starts off with Sara up to her elbows in laundry, scrubbing the dirt once more out of Miss Elizabeth’s petticoats. And that’s just for starters. Someone has to make all those cups of tea the girls keep requesting, arrange those dinners for the neighbors, support Mrs. Bennett’s failing nerves. Someone has to clean up for Mr. Collin’s visit. And while the ladies of the house may be solely concerned with flirting and finding husbands, the rest of the world is dealing with the war against Napoleon, labor unrest, getting in the harvest, slaughtering livestock for the winter ham, starching the laundry, and so on and on.

This book is not for everyone. If you want your Pride & Prejudice to stay just the way the author wrote it, nice and clean and happily ever after, then you really won’t enjoy this book. The characters are not politely repressed gentlefolk – they fight, they swear, they have sex. James has flashbacks to the war. None of this is graphic, but it’s certainly a change from the well-mannered Jane Austen. But if you like learning about how all members of society live, not just the wealthy, then I strongly recommend this book. I listened to it on audio, and the reader did such a good job with the drawing room accents of Miss Elizabeth and the lower class speech of little Polly. I would definitely put this on  your Audible wishlist. 4.5 stars