Posts Tagged ‘historical’

After the Fog by Kathleen Shoop

Alright folks.  After a way-too-long hiatus from blogging, I’m [hopefully] back. And with some wonderful books that I must tell you about!

First, “After the Fog” by Kathleen Shoop.  One day recently, I was in the mood to read something Pittsburgh-y.  Wasn’t sure what.  I thought I’d just type “Pittsburgh” into Amazon’s book search and see what came up.  That’s how I found this gem.

From Amazon:

 The sins of the mother… In the mill town of Donora, Pennsylvania, site of the infamous 1948 “killing smog,” headstrong nurse Rose Pavlesic tends to her family and neighbors. Controlling and demanding, she’s created a life that reflects everything she missed growing up as an orphan. She’s even managed to keep her painful secrets hidden from her loving husband, dutiful children, and large extended family. When a stagnant weather pattern traps poisonous mill gasses in the valley, neighbors grow sicker and Rose’s nursing obligations thrust her into conflict she never could have fathomed. Consequences from her past collide with her present life, making her once clear decisions as gray as the suffocating smog. As pressure mounts, Rose finds she’s not the only one harboring lies. When the deadly fog finally clears, the loss of trust and faith leaves the Pavlesic family—and the whole town—splintered and shocked. With her new perspective, can Rose finally forgive herself and let her family’s healing begin?

I’ll just come right out and say it – I LOVED this book.  So many things about it.  First of all, I don’t know if I’ve actually ever been in Donora before.  It’s a town south of the city of Pittsburgh along the Monongahela River, for those not familiar.  But there are SO many other little towns like that around here that I could picture it anyway.  Heck, for the past three years, I lived right across the river from a coke plant and saw the smoke and flame every day (most air-polluted borough, not FTW!).  I have ancestors on both sides of my family that worked in the local steel and tin mills.  So I was thinking of what my family members may have gone through as I was reading this book.

Second, I feel like I KNEW Rose and her family.  They could be anyone around here.  Early yinzers, perhaps.  Even though the story took place in the 1940s, I felt like I could really put myself in the story and feel like it was happening “now”.  I also learned a lot about the history of the mills around here.  I had no idea about this “fog” (what we’d now refer to as smog) that happened when this story occurred.  That part is real even though the story is fiction, but some parts of the story and some characters are based on some historical records and stories that Kathleen Shoop was able to dig up.

This book seemed long compared to other books I’ve read recently on my Kindle, but that’s a good thing because I didn’t want it to end!  I can’t say enough good things about this book.  I honestly think it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.  The story, the characters, everything just came together.  I’ve already recommended it to a few people and am now telling YOU to go buy/download it if you’re interested in reading Pittsburgh historical fiction.  Kathleen Shoop also has another book out that I can’t wait to read.  I don’t think it’s based in Pittsburgh, but still sounds really good. Check it ‘aht!

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I really need to keep on top of my blogging – I’ll read books and then forget to blog about them until several months later.  Oops!  That’s what happens when you’re a fast reader, I guess.  I read this book earlier this summer.  I had heard some rumblings about it since it was on the NYT Bestseller list, but wasn’t really sure what it was about.  Truthfully, I wasn’t sure at first if I would actually like it.

As “Water for Elephants” starts, Jacob Janikowski is an old man in his nineties in a nursing home.  He despises the nursing home and everything about it.  One day, a circus comes into town nearby and all of the other residents’ families come to take them to see the circus… except Jacob’s family.  He begins to reflect on his younger days after another nursing home resident makes a comment about when he used to work with a circus, which Jacob seriously refutes.

Each chapter alternates between Jacob’s current life in the nursing home and his younger life, when he ran away to join the circus.  He was a veterinary student at Cornell, almost ready to graduate, when his parents were killed in a tragic car accident.  Not knowing what to do with himself and not having any money from his family, Jacob takes a chance and joins a circus tour.  They reluctantly accept him into their group after learning of his veterinary background and his ability to work with their animals.  The Benzini Brothers circus has many a shady character, and Jacob has to always watch his back, not wanting to stir up trouble with circus leader, Uncle Al, or the animal trainer, August.  Against his better judgment, Jacob begins to fall in love with Marlena, August’s wife, and the star performer.  Marlena is a gem amongst the rest of the circus employees – she’s beautiful and has a true way with animals, especially Rosie, an elephant that the circus inherits from another circus that they came across on their travels.  This relationship, obviously, puts a target on Jacob’s back and slowly, the circus begins to fall apart.

I enjoyed this book so much more than I thought I would.  The story was not a true story; however, the author did thorough research on circus life during the early part of the century and makes the reader aware of how horrible the conditions were and the way the people and animals were treated.  Many of the events in this book were taken from pieces of other stories that Sara Gruen had read about.  I found the details very fascinating and while some of them weren’t very pleasant, there were others that made me smile – especially the antics of Rosie the elephant.

I also just found out that this book is being made into a movie, potentially set to be released sometime next year.  I personally think that this story would make a fabulous movie.  I’m sure it wouldn’t be able to incorporate all of the details and little stories that were in the book, but it will be really interesting to see how they make the book characters into characters on the big screen.  Robert Pattinson will be playing Jacob (I really can’t stand him, but it’s probably because he’s so weird in Twilight and I think his face looks like a caveman, so I wonder how he’ll turn out) and Reese Witherspoon will be playing Marlena (I think this is a good choice and I can totally picture it).  I don’t really recognize any of the names of the other characters.  I’m really looking forward to seeing it!

Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace

When I created my @FortheLoveofLit Twitter account recently, I was browsing around looking for other book bloggers and authors to follow.  I came across an author named @Joe_Wallace, saw some Twitter chatter about his newest novel, and decided to check it out! It turned out to be cheaper for me to buy it as a used paperback from Amazon (plus free super saver shipping!) rather than buy it for my Kindle.

I’m not a baseball fan.  My fiancé is a HUGE baseball fan, but I just find it incredibly boring.  I go to baseball games to people watch rather than to actually watch the game.  Anyway, I digress.  From the reviews I read online, this book didn’t seem as much about a history of baseball as it was a story about a unique young girl in a man’s world.  The story starts out with Ruby as a young girl back in the 1920′s.  She attends a professional baseball game with her family and ends up catching a ball during the game.  She was in awe of the players and how they could throw the ball, so when she got home, she went to the park to give it a shot and realized she had an amazing throw.  Ruby had been teased as she was growing up because she had really long arms and they called her “Monkey girl”, but now she realized that her arms had a purpose.  Then a devastating influenza pandemic sweeps through New York City.  Unfortunately, Ruby loses both of her parents, one of her brothers, and her other brother’s wife to the disease and is left with her other brother, Nick, and Nick’s two daughters, Amanda and Allie.  Ruby takes over the role as the girls’ mother while Nick is out getting drunk and going through jobs like someone goes through socks.  Ruby takes a few jobs here and there in order to get by and feed her nieces, but it’s not enough.

With some effort and struggles, Ruby ends up taking a job on Coney Island with a “freak show” of sorts where she is called “Diamond Ruby” – they built a pitching area for her in one of the buildings where people could come and pay to pitch against her to try to beat her speed and accuracy (which is practically impossible).  She is a huge hit and even garners the attention of some of the Yankees players including Babe Ruth himself.  Since baseball is still a men’s only sport back then, she faced some harassment and threats from different people to try to get her to stop throwing.  When she is finally able to get away from that situation, she is asked to join one of the minor league baseball teams as their pitcher; the Brooklyn Typhoons and that whole entire league were struggling and they thought that adding Ruby to the roster would help make their league popular again.  Well, it worked!  Thousands of people would show up to watch Ruby play and after awhile, she did earn the respect of her fellow male teammates and the other teams.  When she is faced with some serious threats, she has to make some difficult decisions…. you’ll have to read the book to find out what they were.

This story was based upon the true story of a girl named Jackie Mitchell back in that same era who was signed to a baseball team in Tennessee and struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.  After that, women were banned from playing baseball.  I really enjoyed the story and didn’t find the baseball theme boring at all because there were so many other things going on with Ruby’s life.  And of course, I liked the historical part of it.  It’s also one of those stories that makes you want to be all “Girl Power!” and stuff.  I think that men could enjoy this book too though, so guys, don’t get scared off by my last statement.

Joseph Wallace actually responded to be on Twitter when I tweeted that I had started reading his book.  I think it’s awesome when authors interact with their readers either through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, whatever.  He’s written a number of other books, including books about baseball history (see, now there’s something that my male readers can enjoy!).

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

I had been hearing good things about this book for awhile, but just never got around to reading it until recently.  I wasn’t really sure what it was about (I tend to skim over summaries on book jackets or online) but if it was supposed to be good, I figured I’d check it out.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” is one of those books that jumps back and forth between time periods.  It is helpful that the year is stated at the beginning of each chapter.  Forgive me if I don’t follow the jumping back and forth between years exactly; it’s hard to remember.

The book starts with Henry as an older man; Henry is a Chinese American living in Seattle whose wife recently passed away from cancer.  He is struggling with the loss when he hears that a local hotel that had been boarded up for years recently was purchased and the owner found some items in the basement.  You then find out more about when Charlie was a young child.  His parents forced him to speak English, even though they only spoke Cantonese, so that he would fit in  and his strict father also made him wear a button saying “I am Chinese” so no one would mistake him for Japanese, who we were in a war with at the time in the 1940′s.  He was also made to go to an American school and worked in cafeteria serving lunch to get away from the other kids.  He met a friend there one day who was a young Japanese American girl named Keiko.  Although his father had given him strict orders to stay away from anyone who was Japanese, and especially to stay out of that neighborhood, Charlie and Keiko forged a friendship.  They also bonded over a the music of a local jazz musician who Charlie hears about from his African American friend, Sheldon, who played his saxophone on the street in the different neighborhoods.

When the war starts to get worse, the Japanese in Seattle are being “evacuated” to camps more inland.  Keiko and her family are forced to leave and Charlie tries everything that his 12-year old self can do to help them, but they still must leave.  Charlie manages to get a job helping the woman that he works with in the cafeteria; they will be serving food at the Japanese camps.  He goes there looking for Keiko and her family, and after awhile, finally finds them.  When Henry’s father finds out that he’s been associating with a Japanese person, he disowns Charlie and refuses to speak with him anymore.  Keiko is then moved to a different camp, and Henry and Sheldon make a bus trip to pay a visit and at that time, it seems like Henry is officially courting Keiko.  Once he goes home, they write to each other often, until the letters start coming less and less.  Henry writes one last letter to Keiko once the war is over and it is rumored that the Japanese are coming home from the camps.  He asks her to meet him in front of the hotel at a specific time.

I will leave off there and you can read the book to find out the rest!  As you know, I like historical fiction.  Other than the fact that I did learn some things about what was going on in the 40′s during the war, it was just a really good story.  The story does switch back and forth between young and old Henry, and my summary above left out most of the old Henry story.  It’s one of those books that really drew me in so that I didn’t want to put it down.  It was also a sweet love story that shows you how powerful love can be (even between two teenagers) in difficult times.   Loved it!

Booth’s Sister by Jane Singer

As you know, I like reading historical stories based on the lives of women, especially if they’re from different cultures.  This book kind of falls into that category, but it’s based on a true story.

Booth’s Sister” is based upon the memoir of Asia Booth, the older sister of John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s assassin.  It starts out right after Lincoln was killed; Asia had some visitors come to her house asking where her brother was, convinced that she knew details that could help the investigation.

The story then reverts back to Asia and John’s childhood.  To be honest, this part of the story was realllllly slow to me.  I almost put the book down (well, I didn’t have the actual book, so I guess you could say that I would have just moved onto the next book on my Kindle book list).  The story is told from the first person perspective of Asia.  As a child, she envied her brother, who was going to follow in their father’s footsteps and become an actor.  I guess back in that time, women could not be actors/actresses.  The family is really into Shakespeare, and his quotes are peppered throughout the dialogue.   From the get go, it seemed to me like Asia had more than just a jealousy or admiration of her brother, it almost seems like she is in love with him – it’s kind of odd.

Finally, after learning about Asia and John as children and teenagers, we get to their young adulthood when John becomes a pretty famous stage actor.  Asia tries to go see his plays as much as possible and is in awe of her brother just like everyone else.  When Asia gets married and invites her brother to dinner, a huge argument ensues between John and her husband (also named John) and the other guests regarding Lincoln, slavery, and the government.  That’s when you start to see the signs that he has a bone to pick with the Prez.  Next thing you know, men are beating down Asia’s door looking for John and hold her captive for about almost two weeks before they finally find and kill him.

Coincidentally, at the same time I was reading this book, my boyfriend is reading a book called “Manhunt” about the search for Lincoln’s killer (which he says I “must read”, which I will, eventually).  ”Booth’s Sister” was interesting; it wasn’t exactly what I expected.  The beginning parts about their childhood didn’t seem entirely relevant to the rest of the story of their lives (some thing did, but not all), but maybe I was just missing something.  Maybe it was because this book was BASED on the true story, so perhaps some things were “fluffed” for entertainment value.  For all of you men out there (okay, probably only a few who actually read this), this is a book that you could read – it’s not targeted specifically toward women, even though it’s told from the woman’s perspective.  You’d probably like “Manhunt” better, though.

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Jaci has read 1 book toward her goal of 35 books.
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