AudioBook Review: A Break with Charity: A Story about the Salem Witch Trials by Ann Rinaldi

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Title: A Break with Charity: A story about the Salem Witch Trials
Author:  Ann Rinaldi
Narrator:  Laura Hicks
Format:  Hardcover. Paperback, eBook, AudioBook
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (11 and up)
Audio Producer: AudioGo
Pages:  298
Length:  7 Hours: 13 minutes
ISBN:  978-0439872188
Source:  AudioBook Jukebox
Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade and older
Stars: Overall: 4  Narration:  4 Story: 5 
Purchase Now:  Amazon §  Audible § Barnes & Noble

About the Book:

Susanna desperately wants to join the circle of girls who meet every week at the parsonage. What she doesn’t realize is that the girls are about to set off a torrent of false accusations leading to the imprisonment and execution of countless innocent people. Susanna faces a painful choice. Should she keep quiet and let the witch-hunt panic continue, or should she “break charity” with the group–and risk having her own family members named as witches?

AudioBook Review:

I’ve long held the belief that an Ann Rinaldi book opens the door to a younger reader, teaching them that they can connect and enjoy history. My daughter loved her books, and it fed her ability and willingness to explore more history, and not fear the research. What holds true with every book that I can name from this author, the characters are easy to understand and get to know, particularly for younger readers who are not as concerned with a rigid conformance to historical accuracy. While she takes liberties in speech and behavior, each story has a solid grounding in the event, and then uses modern conventions to explain the errors of behavior then and now.

In this story, set in 1692, and dealing with the circumstances of the Salem Witch Trials, we meet Susanna, a 15 year old girl who is desperate to be included in the popular girls meetings. Nothing new or different, people all want to belong, unfortunately the girls in this group are highly imaginative and vengeful, and are the genesis of several false accusations of witchcraft in the town. What emerges is a story about standing up for what is right and truth, and whether or not Susanna can actually face the adults and her new friends and speak the truth as she knows it.

While there is a great deal of dither in Susanna, the whole ‘what would / could’ you do in that situation is really the great play in the story. While providing a sense to young readers that history and the adults of the time may just have gotten everything wrong, for a variety of reasons.

Narrated by Laura Hicks, her clearly enunciated delivery and careful pacing feel comfortable and confident, delivering the story without excess embellishment or overly dramatic changes in pitch, tone or delivery to specifically delineate different characters.

All of the characters introduced are actual people, lived during the time and can be found in documents of the time, including information about the trials and the accusers. In an addendum to the story Rinaldi explains her use of Susanna in the story, the inclusion and use of simple elements, and her own liberties with the facts. This actually provides some interesting facts that many may not be aware of, and as an introduction to the time, and a less difficult read than The Crucible, which is all based on the trials themselves, this was an enjoyable story and perfect for readers 12 and up.

I received an MP3 download from AudioGo via AudioBook Jukebox for purpose of honest review for the Heard Word. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

About the Author:

Ann Rinaldi (b. August 27, 1934, in New York City) is a young adult fiction author. She is best known for her historical fiction, including In My Father’s House, The Last Silk Dress, An Acquaintance with Darkness, A Break with Charity, and Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons. She has written a total of forty novels, eight of which were listed as notable by the ALA. In 2000, Wolf by the Ears was listed as one the best novels of the preceding twenty-five years, and later of the last one hundred years. She is the most prolific writer for the Great Episode series, a series of historical fiction novels set during the American Colonial era. She also writes for the Dear America series.

Rinaldi currently lives in Somerville, New Jersey, with her husband, Ron, whom she married in 1960. Her career, prior to being an author, was a newspaper columnist. She continued the column, called The Trentonian, through much of her writing career. Her first published novel, Term Paper, was written in 1979. Prior to this, she wrote four unpublished books, which she has called “terrible.” She became a grandmother in 1991.

Rinaldi says she got her love of history from her eldest son, who brought her to reenactments. She says that she writes young adult books “because I like to write them.”

Website

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AudioBook Review: A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar: A Novel by Suzanne Joinson

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Title: A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar: A Novel
Author: Suzanne Joinson
Narrator:  Susan Duerden
Format:  Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, AudioCD, AudioBook
Publisher:  Bloomsbury USA
Audio Producer: Tantor Media
Pages:  384
Length:  10 Hours, 21 minutes
ISBN:  978-1452657523
Source:  Tantor Media via Edelweiss
Genre:   Historical Fiction
Stars: Overall: 3 Narration: 4 Story: 3
Purchase Now:  Amazon §  Audible   §  Barnes&Noble § Tantor Media

About the Book:

It is 1923. Evangeline (Eva) English and her sister Lizzie are missionaries heading for the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar. Though Lizzie is on fire with her religious calling, Eva’s motives are not quite as noble, but with her green bicycle and a commission from a publisher to write A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar, she is ready for adventure.

In present day London, a young woman, Frieda, returns from a long trip abroad to find a man sleeping outside her front door. She gives him a blanket and a pillow, and in the morning finds the bedding neatly folded and an exquisite drawing of a bird with a long feathery tail, some delicate Arabic writing, and a boat made out of a flock of seagulls on her wall. Tayeb, in flight from his Yemeni homeland, befriends Frieda and, when she learns she has inherited the contents of an apartment belonging to a dead woman she has never heard of, they embark on an unexpected journey together.

A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar explores the fault lines that appear when traditions from different parts of an increasingly globalized world crash into one other. Beautifully written, and peopled by a cast of unforgettable characters, the novel interweaves the stories of Frieda and Eva, gradually revealing the links between them and the ways in which they each challenge and negotiate the restrictions of their societies as they make their hard-won way toward home. A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar marks the debut of a wonderfully talented new writer.

AudioBook Review:

This is a debut novel for Suzanne Joinson, and contains sections of prose that describe the scenes to perfection. Occasionally there are moments that work less smoothly in the story and narration; a sense of self-awareness of the literary nature of the prose gets in the way and the passages aren’t as smooth. Those moments tend to overuse descriptive words that remove the reader’s sense of input into the visualization: a stylistic affectation that will, I believe, disappear with time and attention. The story carries a dream-like quality in the writing, providing a sense of remove from the characters. Unfortunately, this quality doesn’t necessarily stand up to close scrutiny of the characterizations or their connection.

Separated by nearly a century Evangeline and Freida are the two women we come to learn from and watch as they learn and grow in their adventures. Evangeline was a half-hearted missionary with her more pious sister and an acquaintance: her real intent is to pen the book A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. Alternately, Freida is a single woman, functioning in the modern world as a travel writer. Her bicycle is her mode of transport through the often gridlocked London traffic.

What emerges is a slow to develop convergence of the two women: both are striving for freedom, independence and empowerment as they self-direct their lives. Eva has a richer life emotionally and experience wise, and is more intriguing when contrasted to the often overly emphatic characters in her travel companions. Frieda is emotionally guarded and rather dry, and feels as if she is there to simply pull parallels from past to present, forcing the connection between the two women. Tayeb is interesting and brings with him a new perspective, but only momentarily is his position primary to Frieda’s journey, and their connection never seems to develop into a solid one, ending with a whimper and not a bang. Sadly the connected threads of experience from past to present characters did not develop as solidly or as strongly as I hoped, being shadows at the edge of consciousness rather than fully formed analogies.

Narration for this story is provided by Susan Duerden: she has a very precise and deliberate speaking style, which may feel to some listeners as if she is over-enunciating. In fact, the style is not dramatically distracting, if you are familiar and comfortable with the British accent and the minor pitch and tempo changes that are used to delineate characters are not over-done.

I would be curious to see if reading the book brings another perspective, but it was certainly an interesting and intriguing story with some beautiful details and descriptions and a unique presentation of east meets west.

I received an MP3 download from Tantor Audio via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review for the Heard Word. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

Release Day! Letters from Skye: A Novel by Jessica Brockmole

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Title:  Letters from Skye: A Novel
Author:  Jessica Brockmole
Format:  Hardcover, eBook and AudioBook
Publisher:   Ballantine Books
Pages:  306
ISBN:  978-0345542606
Source:  Publisher via NetGalley
Genre:  Literary Fiction, Historical, Woman Centric
Stars:  4.5
Purchase Now:  Amazon  §  Audible  §  Barnes & Noble

About the Book:

A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.

March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.

June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.

Sparkling with charm and full of captivating period detail, Letters from Skye is a testament to the power of love to overcome great adversity, and marks Jessica Brockmole as a stunning new literary voice.

Book Review:

When I read the premise of this story, I was instantly excited: I love books that manage to tell a story using correspondence from characters and many of my favorite reads have used actual correspondence from historical characters to elucidate the story and provide insight into the people that are long gone.

Brockmore creates that same elucidation in her fictional characters, giving us a sense of their voice and what is important to them as they impart stories of their daily activities in letters.  The use of the letters brings an instant connection to the character’s thoughts and approach as the text brings their voices forward, clearly and distinctly, and draws you into the story unlike a long introduction would have.

First up is Elspeth, a published poetess living in Skye.  Her correspondence starts when David, an American university student sends her a fan letter, and they begin to correspond as pen pals.  The contrast in the two styles, the scenery and life depictions are deliciously penned with a subtle use of voicing changes to illustrate the deepening connection between the two.  With screenshots that depict the Isle of Skye, and Elspeth’s rhythmical use of language both feel totally of the moment (early 20th century) and totally modern.  When the war intercedes and David’s tales are more filled with danger and that curious mix of bravado and fear, the moments are as clearly depicted as a film, and the slow revelation of the connection that is deeper than friendship starts to appear.

When Elspeth’s daughter Margaret discovers this cache of letters, her investigations and curiosity are also well documented as she delves into the mystery to discover the why’s of her mother’s hidden life.  While I could easily empathize with her curiosity, I didn’t feel as connected to her, which saddened me.  Not as eloquent as her mother and lacking that connection that was so apparent in the letters between her mother and David, her story was a necessary but less gripping part of the book for me.

Throughout the story the juxtaposition of now and then were running through my mind: the time between letters, the fully fleshed out thoughts and lyrical phrasing so missing in today’s email and text ridden times, and most of all imagining the letters themselves: creased and delicate with evidence of frequent reading.  This was a tremendously satisfying read that incorporated romance, history and even a touch of travelogue into a book that is the perfect read for a quiet afternoon.

I received an ARC copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review.  I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility. 

Find Jessica Brockmole
Website   §  Facebook  §  @jabrockmole

Historical Accuracy in Historical Fiction ~ Guest post by Stephanie Carroll, author of A White Room

Historical Accuracy in Historical Fiction
By Stephanie Carroll

I used to get really angry whenever I read something in a historical fiction novel or watched something in a historical fiction movie or television scene that wasn’t historically accurate. I’d be like, “Oh come on! How hard is it to know that the word ‘hello’ wasn’t around until the 1920s!!!!”

However, after spending five years editing and re-editing A White Room, I learned that being accurate in historical fiction is a balancing act and sometimes factual sacrifices have to be made for the story while other times authors stand their ground in the name of accuracy but still get criticized for it.

I started writing A White Room the year I graduated college. I have degrees in social science and history, so I spent my entire college career obsessing over accuracy. Thus, when I started researching my historical novel, I committed to being as accurate as humanly possible.

I spent the first six months doing nothing but researching. I researched Victorian life, so I could describe how turn of the century people lived on a day to day basis. I researched Victorian deco and Art Nouveau furniture, making sure every single piece I described in the book would be based off of a real object. I researched how women cared for the home, each step of daily chores, cooking, food storage, parenting, values, belief systems, medical practices, speech patterns, calling etiquette, tea etiquette, grooming, hygiene, and I could go on for a really long time.

Then when I started getting feedback from some of my first readers, I was shocked to find them objecting to historically accurate scenes, saying they just didn’t believe it. There was this one specific scene that I really fought to keep. It showed my main character not knowing what was going to happen on her wedding night. Nearly every single reader said they couldn’t believe a woman of her age wouldn’t know what was to happen.

Yet, this is a historically reasonable circumstance. There was no such thing as “the talk” in Victorian times. They didn’t even speak of pregnancy in direct terms. I based the scene off of a historical letter from a new bride. She wrote to another married friend of how surprised she was on her wedding night and how afterwards her mother’s ambiguous comments suddenly made sense.

Still, in the end I cut the scene. Historically accurate or not, it didn’t matter. The point was that the suggestion was so unfamiliar that it pulled readers out of the story long enough for them to doubt it. Even though it is accurate for the times, the doubt in the reader’s mind is enough to have the same impact as if it was a mistake.

At the same time, I had readers literally yell at me for inaccuracies like using a modern spelling of the word “crape,” which I had originally spelled as “crepe” because I preferred the similarity to the word “creep.” Yeah, I got yelled at for that, twice. Well the second time was more of a snide eye rolling but still. The point is clear. It’s really important to not be inaccurate either unless it’s necessary for the story or believability because little inaccuracies will be noticed and will also pull the reader out of the story.

However, there are some choices that must be made regardless of the potential fallout. For instance, I decided not to use ornately Victorian language in A White Room, and I’ve gotten some heat for this, but the language I use isn’t necessary inaccurate. I based it off of the language used in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. That short story was written in the late 1800s and the language is so simple, it almost reads modern, but it was actually written during the time.

Even though some readers will not believe that the language I used is true to the times, I still decided to keep it that way because Victorian language is very purple and flowery, which is no longer a type of writing that modern day readers can tolerate. I wanted readers to easily slip into A White Room and get carried away without having to wrangle with unfamiliar and complicated language.

Still, that doesn’t mean I didn’t make an effort to be historically accurate. I continued to research and double check facts for the book throughout the entire process, all the way up to copyediting and proofreading. I think the majority of historical fiction authors do this amount of research, however, like typos, mistakes happen. We found mistakes in my novel even up until the last round of edits and that’s with many test readers, editors, and proofreaders helping. They were extremely tiny mistakes like having my characters eat bundt cake when technically it wasn’t invented until a couple years later, but sometimes something that small is enough to pull a reader out of the story.

So it’s a balancing act, and the key thing needs to be the reader’s ability to accept what he or she is reading. Whether it’s true or untrue, if the reader doubts, it might as well be a mistake. Whether the reader assumes it’s inaccurate or actually takes the time and effort to double check, he or she has been pulled out of the story and has put the book down. Yet, sometimes authors have to make those calls to maintain the desired effect they want for their story. Sometimes it’s the right call and sometimes it’s not. Unfortunately, they can’t know for sure until they release the book and see what readers think.

Be sure to see my review of A White Room and find all of the tour stop information Here

About the Author

As a reporter and community editor, Stephanie Carroll earned first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and from the Nevada Press Association. Stephanie holds degrees in history and social science. She graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno.

Her dark and magical writing is inspired by the classic authors Charlotte Perkins Gilman (The Yellow Wallpaper), Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden), and Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights).

Stephanie blogs and writes fiction in California, where her husband is stationed with the U.S. Navy. Her website is www.stephaniecarroll.net.

A White Room is her debut novel.

 

Find Stephanie Carroll

 FacebookTwitterGoodreads

A White Room by Stephanie Carroll ~ Review

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Title: A White Room
Author: Stephanie Carroll
Format: Paperback and eBook
Publisher: Unhinged Books
Pages: 408
ISBN: 978-0988867406
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Genre: Historical Fiction / Woman’s Literature
Stars:  5
Purchase Now:  Amazon  §  Barnes & Noble § Sony § Kobo § Inktera § Smashwords § Apple’s iBooks

About the Book:

At the close of the Victorian Era, society still expected middle-class women to be “the angels of the house,” even as a select few strived to become something more. In this time of change, Emeline Evans dreamed of becoming a nurse. But when her father dies unexpectedly, Emeline sacrifices her ambitions and rescues her family from destitution by marrying John Dorr, a reserved lawyer who can provide for her family.

John moves Emeline to the remote Missouri town of Labellum and into an unusual house where her sorrow and uneasiness edge toward madness. Furniture twists and turns before her eyes, people stare out at her from empty rooms, and the house itself conspires against her. The doctor diagnoses hysteria, but the treatment merely reinforces the house’s grip on her mind.

Emeline only finds solace after pursuing an opportunity to serve the poor as an unlicensed nurse. Yet in order to bring comfort to the needy she must secretly defy her husband, whose employer viciously hunts down and prosecutes unlicensed practitioners. Although women are no longer burned at the stake in 1900, disobedience is a symptom of psychological defect, and hysterical women must be controlled.

A novel of madness and secrets, A White Room presents a fantastical glimpse into the forgotten cult of domesticity, where one’s own home could become a prison and a woman has to be willing to risk everything to be free.

Be sure to see Stephanie’s guest post – Historical Accuracy in Historical Fiction Here
Read on for My Review, About the Author and details on the blog tour for A White Room

Book Review:

Initially I was drawn to the historical fiction aspects of the story, and a woman’s struggle to fit within the confines of societal expectations and her own desires. What emerges is a story so rich in both imagery and personal struggle, layered with dramatic events, and a lead character that is both empathetic and deeply flawed.

Carroll created a heroine that will tug at your heartstrings, with her desires for more than a ‘conventional’ life in the early1900’s, for a woman of an upper-middle class household. College educated Emeline is hoping to go to nursing school and live an independent life; until the death of her father reveals greatly reduced circumstances and the fear of penury for her family. A promise to ‘take care’ of her family leads her into a situation of sacrifice: she barters her singlehood for marriage and security for her family.

I loved Emeline’s use of the metaphor of A White Room: the expectations of society, responsibilities and convention all conspire to keep her contained within an all-white room, where color and personal choice are an anathema and may bring the walls down to crush her. Far from being bright and light, there was an ominous sense of a loss of self, and a lack of color in the room and her life corresponded to the darkness and shadows brought on by her own depression. Her retreat into imagination was understandable, and supremely well documented, the instant belief that she was in the grips of hysterical madness, and the continual threat of that diagnosis of madness being used to contain and constrain her was both true to the time and an interesting plot device. Where Emeline had an interesting core of strength of character: she was a woman of her time, and the threat of discovery and containment were frightening to her. What could have been used to stall the story and find her forays into her own imaginings becoming a permanent state of affairs, she found that the needs of others overrode her own concerns and responsibilities, and she moves forward despite the potential for discovery and disgrace.

The author mentions her influences in literature, from Charlotte Perkins Gilman to Frances Hodgson Burnett and Emily Bronte: and I found that there were elements that captured the feel of those author’s books in a very positive sense. The otherworldliness of Burnett came forward in the parlor and the woods, lushly imagined spaces with features that could change from gloriously quirky to malevolent in moments. The inner turmoil and imaginative inner thoughts of Emmaline that were similar to those of Bronte heroine Jane Eyre, and the obsession so well noted in Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. All three of these elements worked together in a very unique way to detail and define the world that Emeline saw, and provided the reader with easy imagery and a sense of familiarity in the unfamiliar world of the early 1900’s.

This was one of those books that was satisfying on many levels: historically, the plight of Emeline, the friendships and ultimately the relationships and personal growth. Stephanie Carroll has crafted a novel with so many things to enjoy for readers of all persuasions.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

About the Author:

As a reporter and community editor, Stephanie Carroll earned first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and from the Nevada Press Association. Stephanie holds degrees in history and social science. She graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno.

Her dark and magical writing is inspired by the classic authors Charlotte Perkins Gilman (The Yellow Wallpaper), Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden), and Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights).

Stephanie blogs and writes fiction in California, where her husband is stationed with the U.S. Navy. Her website is www.stephaniecarroll.net.

A White Room is her debut novel. 

Find Stephanie Carroll

 Facebook § @CarrollBooks § Goodreads § Website

Follow the blog tour for a chance to win a free and copy and to learn more About A White Room and author Stephanie Carroll!

(Or attend an in-person reading. Readings will be held in California and Nevada. Visit www.stephaniecarroll.net for details.)

A White Room Blog Tour Dates

Weds, June 19 – Oh, For the Hook of a Book:  Book Review and Giveaway (ebook)|
Thurs, June 20 – Hazel the Witch:  Interview and Giveaway (Print)
Sat, June 22 – Reading in Ecuador:  Guest Post: How to Write Suspenseful Fiction including A White Room excerpt
Thurs, June 27 – Momma Bears Book Blog:  Giveaway and Guest Post: The Story Behind Emeline’s Mental Distress
Fri, June 28The Bookish Dame:  Interview and Giveaway
Tues, July 2 – I am Indeed:  Guest Post: Historical Accuracy in Historical Fiction
Mon, July 8 – Bookfari:  Interview and Giveaway
Tues, July 9 – Hazel the Witch: Guest Post – How to Write the Inner Thoughts of a Crazy Person
Weds, July 10 – Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers: Review and Giveaway
Fri, July 12 – Lost to Books:  Guest Post TBA and Giveaway
Mon, July 15 – A Writer of History:  Guest Post: Writing an Era – Where to Begin?
Weds, July 17 – Michelle’s Romantic Tangle:  Interview
Thurs, July 18 – Oh, For the Hook of a Book:  Interview
Tues, July 23 – Unabridged Chick:  Review and Giveaway
Thurs July 25 – Ravings and Ramblings:  Review and Interview
Tues July 30 – Reading the Past:  Giveaway and Guest Post: Writing and Historical Thought – They Didn’t Think Like We Did 100 Years Ago
Sat, Aug. 3 – History and Women:  Giveaway and Guest Post: Victorian Women and the Mystery of Sex