The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, by Fannie Flagg

flaggThis book tells the story of Sookie Poole, a wife and mother (empty-nester) from Clear Point, Alabama who finds that she is not who she thought she was.   Her overbearing yet loveable mother, Lenore, is not her real mother. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn of a Polish family in Pulaski, Wisconsin, back in WWII, who owned the town’s Phillip 66 Station, and whose daughters ran the station when the men were off to war.  The girls became accomplished flyers and flew for the WASP’s.  We are led on a page-turning journey where Sookie finds the truth of her heritage.  Read this book and you will follow a journey that shows how connections can alter life’s path.

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The Valley of Amazement, by Amy Tan

The first thing that should be noted is the explicit detail in this book as the time is set in the world of courtesans in Shanghai during the 19th-century.  Beyond that is a powerful story of mother and daughters, family secrets and the need for unconditional love.

For the most part, the book flows in the manner indicative of circumstances expected, although the part about Flora seems a little disjointed in the pages discussing her reputation growing up.  I felt it was too much detail for the point Tan was trying to make about life being full circle.   The events that unfold will make you want to know the whole story despite ugly things that unfold.  I thought the ending was surprising which only a skilled writer can accomplish.

 

 

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Whistling Past the Graveyard, by Susan Crandall

whistlingStarla is a nine-year old white girl and growing up in Mississippi in 1963. She lives with her grandmother while her mother is becoming a country music star in Nashville and her father works on a oil rig in the gulf. She has the normal dreams of wanting to live with both her parents.   Starla rebels against her grandmothers controlling behavior, so  Starla decides to run away to find her mother in Nashville. She befriends Eula after nearly being killed, and as these two unlikely companions make their long and sometimes dangerous journey, Starla’s eyes are opened to the harsh realities of segregation. Through talks with Eula, reconnecting with her parents, and encountering a series of surprising misadventures, Starla learns to let go of long-held dreams and realizes family is forged from those who will sacrifice all for you.

This book has been compared to The Help in many reviews.   Yes, it was that good and a fast read.

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The Spymistress, by Jennifer Chiaverini

spymistressDo yourself a favor and flip to the author’s note in the back of the book.  It will give you a greater appreciation for the historical detail and the main character.  I confess, I was going to quit reading this book because it seemed impossible for a woman spy during the civil war to have been of any impact.  I’m astonished to know she was in fact real, as well as her mission.  Also, the storyline doesn’t even begin till Chapter 3, so if you’re not into the detail, skip the first two chapters and you will still be involved in the story.

The main character, Elizabeth Van Lew, spies for the Union and helps Union prisoners of war through the terrible conditions of the prisons in Richmond, Virginia.  Her wealth and intelligence provide considerable leverage to accomplish help to the Union in a confederate society.

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Longbourn, by Jo Baker

longbournThis story is set in the household of the Bennett family from the infamous Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.    You don’t have to read that one first, as this is a story about the servants in that era, rather than Austen’s focus on marrying the daughters.    I was into Sarah’s relationships and the reactions of Mrs. Hill, the head housemaid. Sarah faces choices about continuing her life of servitude or breaking out into a life of her own.  There is a dark undertone which I wasn’t up for as I just wanted a lighter read after the last novel I read.  I’m looking for a feel-good novel; any suggestions?

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The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman

The Dovekeeper is a story set around the city of Masada,  70CE. Although historians know little of what truly happened, around 73CE the Romans invaded Masada to find over 950 dead… only 2 women and 5 children survived.   Over 9 hundred Jews made it to the Judean Mountains to the fortress of Masada where they would hold out against the Romans as the last Jewish resistance including a group of women known as the Dovekeepers whose job is to care of the doves that will fertilize their crops.   This story is told by four women who have come to Masada in search of a new life.  Their stories are filled with love, pain, and secrets.  You will experience romance, sorrow and happiness entwined into its haunting descriptions.  I was deeply moved by the obstacles that they had to overcome; the last part of the book intense.  A time-consuming read, to digest all the complexities involved in times I knew nothing about.

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The Silver Star, by Jeannette Walls

wallsOk, this book probably doesn’t count as historical fiction.  It did depict the integration problems and racial issues relevant to small time life in the state of Virginia.  This story is set in the 1970’s and is about two sisters, Bean (the narrator) and half-sister Liz who share the same mother, but have different fathers.  One day the mother leaves and sends the girls enough money to last a month or two. When it appears that their mother has no plans to return in the immediate future, Liz decides that they need to take a bus to Virginia, where their uncle whom they have never met lives.

The girls work for a man, who eventually tries to molest Liz.  Although at the beginning of the book, Bean depends on Liz for leadership, Bean turns out to be the one who takes action to save the family.  Parts of the story are heartbreaking and some will make you mad in regards to this dysfunctional family.  Most of all, you will find spirit and courage when all hope seems gone.

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