Think of this as part 2 of the reviews of some non-poetry books. If you’re one of the authors, feel free to drop your BOOK LINK or website and/or blog links in the comments! That’s because I am too lazy to pull together that information . . . . But if you put book link in the comments, I’ll try to add it to the post. How bout that?
HISTORICAL NOVEL ABOUT WOMAN IN 1920S VERMONT
Elizabeth Gauffreau’s novel Telling Sonny puts a few turbulent months in one woman’s life under the microscope. In doing so, the story captures subtle twists and turns in protagonist Faby Gauthier’s personality, character, and outlook on life. This psychological exploration is most akin to the excavations into the psyche as written by Henry James, but without his complicated sentences and repetitions. Instead, the reader’s attention is less focused on the psychology than on the details of the protagonist, Faby Gauthier’s, experience at home and on the road traveling with her new husband, a vaudeville dancer. Gauffreau manages to recreate a lost world of 1920s small-town New England, Atlantic City, the vaudeville circuit, and rail travel. She obviously painstakingly researched the novel, polishing every detail of each scene until it shines with clarity. Gauffreau’s writing style successfully marries the direct nature of contemporary writing with a more graceful syntax that befits the time period, as well as Faby’s upbringing. When I finished the book, I wanted to talk to other readers about the book, especially my thoughts about Faby and Louis, both micro (such as their choices) and macro (relating to history and sociology). So, please, read it and talk to me about it!
Telling Sonny is on sale right now at Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1364146
I did read Elizabeth Gauffreau’s novel some time ago, but wanted to post it here since it is on sale and is a personal favorite, plus I don’t believe I ever posted a review of the book on this blog. I’m eagerly awaiting Liz’s next novel . . . .
HISTORICAL NOVEL ABOUT JEWISH PIONEERS TO SANTA FE
Santa Fe Love Song, by Amy Bess Cohen, reads like a valentine from Cohen to her great-great grandparents Bernard and Frances (Nussbaum) Seligmann. The story of Bernard, a young immigrant from a small town in Germany to Philadelphia and Santa Fe, though fictionalized, gives a wonderful account of what it would have been like for a German Jewish young man to travel across the ocean by himself, get a job, learn English, and within a matter of months, move across the country to New Mexico via the grueling Santa Fe Trail to meet up with his brother. It’s fascinating to read about Bernard’s acclimation to living out west just before, during, and after the Civil War.
The story is of Bernard’s development as an important pioneer of Santa Fe, and his search for a Jewish wife to bring to a place where there were very few Jews, no Kosher foods, and no synagogue. When he traveled back to Philadelphia to look for a wife, he fell in love with Frances, but would she move to Santa Fe with him? And, if so, would she stay? The story is engaging and the suspense level is well-moderated. When the book ended, I didn’t want to leave the lives of the family of Bernard and Frances. I hope there will be a sequel.
Although the reader first meets Bernard when he is nineteen, he ages throughout the course of the novel, so in this one respect Santa Fe Love Song does not fit the definition of young adult literature. The main character is not a preteen or teen. Nevertheless, half the texts recommended for secondary school students have adult protagonists. The themes and the way mature subjects are handled mean that this book would be suitable for older children, teens, and adults.
Cohen wrote the book, in part, for her own grandchildren to learn about their heritage and the strength of the people who came before them. In keeping with that focus, her grandsons, Nathaniel Jack Fischer and Remy Brandon Fischer, illustrated the book with charming and detailed drawings. They really add to the overall experience of reading this lovely book.
Perhaps the book’s greatest importance lies in how it goes beyond the more often recorded history of Jewish immigrants enriching the eastern American cities where they tended to congregate in the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s. Instead, Santa Fe Love Song has a Jewish protagonist who quickly learns how to ride a horse, shoot a gun, and hold his own against the rough and tumble forces of the early American west.
Marian Longenecker Beaman’s memoir Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl is a fascinating excursion into Marian’s life as a child and young woman who grew up in a Mennonite farm household in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. This is the first time I have been shown what plain and fancy mean to the Mennonites. Marian was brought up plain, wearing no jewelry or makeup and hiding her hair under a cap. Most of the women did not drive, but the families did have cars that the men drove. (I grew up in Michigan, and many of the Michigan/Indiana Mennonites still ride in buggies like the Amish). Secretly, Marian was drawn to what is fancy, symbolized by her dream of wearing red shoes. While Marian does eventually make a move to the fancy world, she stays true to her Christian upbringing. The book is uplifting and inspirational but doesn’t shy away from the negative in the form of her father whose inability to demonstrate affection and harsh punishments of Marian is heart-breaking. You won’t be disappointed by this story of a different time (largely the 50s and early 60s) and a family rooted in a tradition quite different from most Americans.
P.S. This is not part of my review, but I will mention that I wish that Marian Beaman had set the Mennonites in context with the overwhelmingly majority Amish of the region. You might want to look that up before starting the book. She does, though, make some comparisons with Orthodox Jewish traditions. Also: I love the cover with the red shoes! The book can be purchased here: https://marianbeaman.com/
MYSTERY WITH A HISTORICAL AND ART WORLD TWIST
Attribution is not only a fun and riveting read, but it’s a smart one, too. I learned so much about art history (and art politics) along the way. The protagonist, Cate, a doctoral student finds a mystery painting. She decides to seek attribution for the painting. Her search takes her from her New York university to Spain where she meets a romantic descendant of an old aristrocratic family. The further Cate gets into the mess she’s created, the more questions and dangers arise about the painting and the characters who revolve around that painting.
I have a feeling that the author, Linda Moore, spent a long time researching and writing this book, but I am ready for the sequel as I did not want the book to end!
NOVEL OF ADVENTURE IN INDIA, FOCUS ON TOPIC OF ADOPTION
Elaine Pinkerton’s novel The Hand of Ganesh took me on a journey to India with such great detail that I felt as if I accompanied Clara and Dottie/Arundati on their quest to find Dottie’s birth mother. The young women also visited India to carry out the wishes of others for the stone hand of Ganesh that had been in Dottie’s adoptive family. The omniscient novel focuses mainly on Clara, an American (and Native American) adoptee whose story was first told in Pinkerton’s novel All the Wrong Places. Clara, who has already searched for her birth mother, acts as a sort of guide for Dottie who was born in India, but she knows very little about her origins. She is the ideal viewpoint for the novel because she is an outsider to India and shares what she learned with the reader. Suspense lies both in the larger issue—will Dottie find the mother of the child Arundati—and in a more subtle question—how do foreigners know who to trust in a country they do not know or understand? Read The Hand of Ganesh for its engaging storyline, meticulous depiction of southern India, and adoptee themes. Read The Hand of Ganesh and you will be eager to plan a trip to India.
I’ve enjoyed more books than this, but whew, I’m tired just remembering them all. Hope you find something that appeals to you here! And note that Anneli Purchase writes some stellar novels. Here’s my review on this blog of my favorite, Julia’s Violinist: https://writersite.org/2021/12/20/my-review-of-julias-violinist-by-anneli-purchase-and-note-from-the-author/ Another author of note is Joy Neale Kidney whose Leora historical series makes for an entertaining, educational, and sometimes heartbreaking experience. I have read all three books. Here is the first one I read and the review I posted here: https://writersite.org/2020/01/27/book-review-leoras-letters-or-how-i-learned-empathy-for-americans-during-wwii/