Cozy up with a new book

The family had been hiding in the backwoods of the Kentucky mountains all of Honey Lovett’s life. Now it is 1953 when 16-year-old Honey’s parents are in jail for intermarrying between blue and non-blue folk. (The blue condition is called methemoglobinemia. It is a blood disorder in which an abnormal amount of methemoglobin is produced. This causes the skin to show blue tones.) Honey needs to marry or find a guardian. If not, Honey will be taken to the Kentucky House of Reform until she turns twenty-one.

Sadly, Honey’s guardian passes away and she is alone again. A very independent Honey takes on her mother’s old packhorse librarian route delivering books to isolated people in the county. She even rides her mother’s ornery but protective mule, Junia. Most people are happy to have the book delivery service again, but a couple of individuals make her life miserable. To avoid trouble with the state and social service officials, lawyer Bob Morgan offers to represent her in a bid for legal emancipation. Despite lies told in court, friends come to Honey’s aid to testify to her character and to her ability to be independent.

This is a terrific book for readers of historical fiction. You will want to start with the first title in the series – The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek published in 2019.

~Emma

Cozy up with a new book

After her mother dies, Hanna Rombauer is sent to live with wealthy Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Otto in Berlin. Their goal is to find her a high-ranking SS officer to marry, and Hanna soon learns that she has no choice in the matter. Klara Schmidt, Hanna’s friend, is also expected to marry an SS officer.

Gifted seamstresses Mathilde Altman (Tilde) and her Jewish mother run a fabric shop. Tilde who looks Aryan waits on customers while her mother hides upstairs. Tilde’s Aryan father left his family when it became dangerous for Jews in Germany. Eventually Tilde’s mother immigrates to the United States.

Hanna and Tilde are barely aware of each other, but their lives soon become entangled. Hanna is sent to a “Nazi Bride School” to learn to become the proper Nazi wife. Tilde is pregnant, her Jewish husband has disappeared, and she needs a safe place to give birth. Klara, one of Tilde’s customers, is also attending the school and is aware of Tilde’s predicament. Klara discovers an abandoned cabin near the school where Tilde can be relatively safe. Both Hanna and Klara take extraordinary risks when Tilde and her newborn are discovered.

For fans of historical fiction, this is a tale of love, loss, and survival.

~Emma

Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin

I love Jason Reynolds. His books are always powerful, beautiful, heartbreaking and hopeful, and his newest offering, produced with his best friend, does not disappoint. In fact, it is so stunning that after enjoying a library copy I immediately purchased a copy for my personal collection.

Find a copy here

Reynolds penned three long sentences. Griffin filled 300 pocket-sized moleskin pages of art. Together they capture the feelings of fear and uncertainty most of us felt during 2020. Around the world and in our own communities people were isolate, separated. By Covid. By politics. But also, people took to the streets to protest. All the while, we sat glued to the news. Mostly bad news. It was a long, dark year. But not entirely without hope.

This book is almost 400 pages long and weighs almost 2 pounds, but you can read it in 15 minutes. Or linger over each drawing. Or revisit favorite pages. It’s a treasure.

Dedication page

These are a few pages that stuck out to me and I think they are excellent examples of the wide range of feelings expressed throughout the book. The next time someone says they don’t like poetry, hand them this and see if you win them over!

~Megan

Cozy up with a new book

In New York City in 1955, 29-year-old Rachel Perlman (born Rashka Morgenstern) continues to suffer from survivor guilt. She survived the Holocaust, but her mother, a successful artist, did not. Rachel endured the war by being a “U-boat”, a Jew hiding in plain sight to avoid capture. She became involved with identifying other “U-boats” who were eventually sent to concentration camps.

Rachel has been married for 7 years to her Jewish/American husband Aaron who wants to start a family, but Rachel is reluctant to bring a child into an evil world. She is haunted by visions of her mother and nightmares of what she witnessed. Her husband, in-laws and even her psychiatrist cannot comprehend what she experienced.

Incredibly one of Rachel’s mother’s paintings was discovered by Uncle Fritz in a pawnshop, and he’s certain it’s worth a fortune. Fritz wants to purchase the painting but does not have the $50 the pawnbroker wants for it. When Rachel goes to purchase the painting, it’s gone. Who bought it and why?

This is a heartbreaking book at times, but there is hope.

~Emma

Cozy up with a new book

When 13-year-old Stefan Silbermann’s mother died, his father sent him away to a boarding school in Leipzig. (Gottfried Silbermann made and serviced church organs.) At the school Johann Sebastian Bach is the cantor. Stefan’s beautiful voice attracts the attention of Bach which causes bullying from the other boys. They are extremely jealous. Bach is aware of the bullying and invites Stefan to live at his home with his wife and children. Everyone lives and breathes music at the Bach home. All are required to practice and perform for the family. Anna Magdalena, Bach’s second wife, is a talented vocalist, but women are not allowed to sing publicly in church. She spends time with Stefan helping him to learn new music Bach composes on a regular basis. Catharina, Bach’s oldest child, becomes a favorite of Stefan.

The novel is told from Stefan’s point of view decades later. It’s a novel of love, loss, and grief.

~Emma

Cozy up with a new book

Things Past Telling
by Sheila Williams

Maryam Priscilla Grace was born in West Africa around 1758. She was abducted by slave traders at age 10. Maryam had a gift for learning languages which served her well over time. While crossing the Atlantic a pirate, named Caesar, captured the ship Maryam was traveling on. He freed all the slaves but her. She became his translator. Maryam learned healing and midwifery which eventually made her more valuable than a field worker when she was eventually sold to a Virginia plantation owner. Maryam married James and had two sons who are sold to pay off a debt. Maryam is sold again to a widowed Scottish farmer who treated his slaves, his property, fairly. During this time, she became the mother to a baby boy whose mother died in childbirth. It was also during this time she helped runaways and became pregnant with her owner’s child. He gave Maryam, her son and their unborn child freedom and eventually settled in Ohio.

This historical epic is loosely based on the life of a 112-year-old woman the author discovered in the 1870 U.S. Census for Ohio. It is the story of one woman’s hard harsh journey.

~Emma

Review of Siren Queen by Nghi Vo

Cover of Siren Queen by Nghi Vo. Image is a link to the RRPL catalog.

Hollywood is said to be a magical place where anything can happen. Lucky nobodies can be discovered on the street and catapulted into stardom, while someone who bags your groceries one day might be lighting up the silver screen the next. In Nghi Vo’s newest outing Siren Queen, Golden Age Hollywood really is a fairy tale, but the kind that runs on magic, sacrifices, and demons controlling the big studios. The lucky few actors who become stars rise up to become immortal beings in the sky, while anyone who fails becomes fuel for the movie machine. Luli Wei yearns to see her name in lights, but she is a poor Chinese American girl who refuses to be what the studio wants: the maid character, a bit part, or a racist caricature. Instead, her only path forward to stardom and immortality is to embrace the monster inside her. With luck, courage, and conviction, Luli may achieve the stardom that she so desperately desires.

Vo’s protagonists often rail against sexism and racism in their respective societies, and Luli is no different. Since she is not a white heterosexual man, she fights against the societal and magical forces that would keep her from being a star or relegating her to only bit parts. Readers looking for nuanced lesbian romance will enjoy the different relationships with Luli’s various partners over the course of the novel. As always with Vo’s books, readers must pay attention and read between the lines; the world of Siren Queen is mystical, complicated, and very little is explained about the world or the magic system. Vo takes you along for the ride and you are expected to follow along or be swept under, much like Luli Wei in the world of Hollywood. This is another strong novel from Vo about an admirable, complicated woman learning to embrace who she is, whether that is a monster or a movie star (or both!).

Release date: May 10, 2022

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

Historical Fiction for your consideration

This novel is based on the life of Lyudmila “Mila” Pavilchenko, nicknamed “Lady Death”. When the Germans invaded Russia, Mila enlisted. She was a librarian, young mother and history student working on her dissertation. Mila rose through the ranks and oversaw a platoon. Her job was to train others and kill Nazis. Mila became a successful female sniper with 309 kills.

In 1942, Mila was part of a delegation to Washington D.C. to help persuade America to open a second front during World War II. Americans were curious about the lady sharpshooter and Mila became a popular speaker. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Mila became fast friends their friendship continuing well after FDR’s passing.

In a male-dominated army during WWII, Mila was a rare person who deserves her place in history.

~Emma

Cozy up with a new book

The Last Mona Lisa by Jonathan Santlofer

On August 21, 1911, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre by museum worker Vincent Peruggia. The theft was not discovered immediately. In truth, many thought the painting was taken to the roof where others were being photographed due to better lighting. After two days, an international hunt was on to recover the stolen work. Peruggia’s scheme was to have forgeries made of the painting and have them sold as the original. Along with the forger and go-between, Perrugia would become rich. (There were nine forgeries.) In 1913, Perrugia returned the Mona Lisa to the Louvre. Was it the real thing or a forgery?

Vincent Peruggia is the great-grandfather of art professor Luke Perrone. Luke is obsessed with the story behind the theft. He travels to Florence, Italy. His great-grandfather’s journal is available at the Laurentian library in Florence. Others seem interested in the truth behind the theft including an INTERPOL agent and a young American woman.

A terrifying and thrilling multi-layered novel.

~Emma

Cozy up with a new book

Sisters of Night and Fog by Erika Robuck

This book is based on the lives of Virginia d’Albert-Lake and Violette Szabo. Both Virginia and Violette had important roles during WWII. Both were captured by the Germans and eventually sent to Ravensbruck where they endured horrific conditions.

Violette’s husband was killed in North Africa. She refused to leave France despite having a young daughter at home. She was a sharpshooter fluent in multiple languages. Her talents were quickly realized, and she became part of the SOE (Special Operations Executive). Formed in 1940, the Special Operations Executive was an underground army that waged a secret war in enemy-occupied Europe and Asia.

Virginia and her husband Philippe became part of the Comet Line, a Resistance organization in occupied Belgium and France during the Second World War. Their job was to help Allied soldiers and pilots shot down over occupied Belgium evade capture by Germans and eventually return to Great Britain.

Their stories connected at Ravensbruck. When it was finally discovered that Virginia was an American, she was released. Violette did not survive. At just twenty-three, she was executed with other women who were part of the SOE.

From what I can gather, the book closely follows the lives and experiences of these two women. The author’s thorough research is evident throughout.

~Emma

(There is a 1958 movie based on the life of Violette Szabo called “Carve Her Name with Pride”.)