Read: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

newsI received an e-copy of this book from the publisher for review.

I previously read Lighthouse Island by the same author, which I loved. That is a very different story. Whereas News of the World is set in the 19th century, Lighthouse Island is a dystopian novel set in a near future. I loved both novels equally. Jiles is a great writer who knows how to tell a good story.

A seventy-year-old man, Captain Kidd, a reader of news who travels around the country to earn a living, is asked to deliver a ten-year-old girl with her aunt and uncle, 400 miles away, after she had been stolen, and then rescued, from the indians. The girl, Johanna, feels indian, after having spent four years there, and will not comply to the rules of civilized society. Their journey is full of adventure and dangers.

The story is totally captivating. I enjoyed reading this so much! The slowly evolving relationship between the captain and Johanna is interesting to follow. We are told the story through the eyes of Captain Kidd and so we have no first-person knowledge of what is going on inside Johanna, but from the way she acts it becomes clear that she becomes attached to the old man. And the old man, who initially thought of her as a burden, becomes attached to her as well, and starts to doubt whether Johanna is really better off with her uncle and aunt.

A beautiful story about an old man and a young girl, traveling in a hostile world.

The publisher says: “It is 1870 and Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forging a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.”

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Read: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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The publisher says: “Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel – the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.”

I thought: Beautifully written story of two sisters and their descendants, spanning two centuries. Because every chapter is about a new generation, it’s more a collection of short stories than a novel. Of course, the stories of each line of descendants does continue over the generations, but it did feel a bit disjointed.

The descendants of one of the sisters stays in Africa while the other line is sold into slavery and ends up in America. The stories seem very realistic. Interestingly, the descendants who stayed in Africa are not necessarily better off than those sold into slavery.

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signatureI’ve read several books by Elizabeth Gilbert but had not read The Signature of All Things yet, so it was about time! I had no idea what it would be about, and I was surprised to find that this was historical fiction. The other novels I’d read by Gilbert were all set in current times.

This is a novel about the life of a female botanist, Alma Whittaker, born at the end of the eighteenth century and follows her from birth to the grave (and even before birth, as we learn how her father acquired such wealth as he did). Alma is more interested in her father’s work, botany, than in becoming a socially acceptable girl. This means she prefers her research over settling down with a husband. During the story, we follow her struggles with becoming accepted as a female botanist, with love, and her adventures abroad, taking her into a very different, spiritual, world.

I very much enjoyed reading Alma’s story – it felt like this was a woman who had really existed. She’s completely fictional, though (I checked). This is both a story about a woman quietly doing research at her large estate, as a story about adventure, tropical islands and sea captains. Five stars from me. I loved this!

The publisher says: “Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist—but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.”

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Read: Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja

Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja Amazon says: “From a wartime brothel to the intricate high society of 1870s Brussels, Under the Poppy is a breakout novel of childhood friends, a love triangle, puppetmasters, and reluctant spies.

Under the Poppy is a brothel owned by Decca and Rupert. Decca is in love with Rupert, but he in turn is in love with her brother, Istvan. When Istvan comes to town, louche puppet troupe in tow, the lines of their age-old desires intersect against a backdrop of approaching war. Hearts are broken when old betrayals and new alliances—not just their own—take shape, as the townsmen seek refuge from the onslaught of history by watching the girls of the Poppy cavort onstage with Istvan’s naughty puppets . . .

Under the Poppy is a vivid, sexy, historical novel that zips along like the best guilty pleasure.”

I got this book from my old (in blogging terms) friend Adam, the Roofbeam Reader. This is one of his favorite books, and I was so pleased to receive a copy – I think I won it in a giveaway on Adam’s blog. It took me a while to start reading it. Recently, I found out that it’s part of a  series, and if it was really that good, I’d be in for a nice time, right?

Unfortunately, I didn’t share Adam’s enthusiasm for the novel. In fact, I didn’t get beyond page 100 or so. I tried, but could not get into the story. To me, the characters weren’t likeable, there was a lot of changing of perspective from one character to the next (annoying and confusing), and the story didn’t grab me either.

Now, that’s odd. I went into this book fully expecting to love it, so the fact that I didn’t love it, couldn’t have been because of me. It had to be the book. But it should be good – it just had to be. I struggled and felt sorry for Adam, for having sent this book to an ungrateful reader who tosses his precious book away like an old rag doll. Not so, but if a book grows on me – in a negative way, where I find out (without trying) more and more I don’t like about the book – it’s time to throw the towel in the ring and hope for better times. The book won’t change, but maybe I will. And then, I’ll try again.

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