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December 1, 2019

3 Books for Fans of Historical Fiction

by Susan Roberts

Today I have reviews of historical fiction that span America from Chicago in the early 1960s to West Virginia in 1912 and then back to Hawaii in 1902.

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Blackbird Blues by Jean K. Carney

Blackbird Blues by Jean K. Carney
October 2019;  Bedazzled Ink; 978-1949290226
ebook, print (218 pages); young adult
"The nuns have no business giving you girls big ideas.  Like you could just do what you want.  A woman who us fool enough not to get married can be a teacher, a nurse or a secretary.  Period." (p 24)

It's 1963 and Mary Kaye attends Catholic school in Chicago. She is 18 years old, wants to be a jazz singer and has decided to enter the convent to become a nun. But which goal is more important to her -- to be free and sing or to enter the convent for the strict life as a nun. When she finds out that her mentor Sister Michaeline has died, her life gets even more confusing and she has no one to talk to about her life-changing decisions. At the Sister's funeral, she meets a black man who was a friend of the nun in her earlier days and he gives Mary Kaye her diary.  Through reading the diary and the friendship with Lucius, her world begins to grow beyond her small Irish neighborhood. To make her life even more confusing, she is afraid that she's pregnant.  She knows that she doesn't want or need a baby but her options for how to solve this problem are severely limited.

As you read the book you have to remember that it takes place in the 1960s.   The only way to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy was through a back alley abortion.  There were very few interracial friendships and women had few choices in life -- they were either going to be a mother, a teacher, a nurse or a secretary.  Being a jazz singer wasn't one of the accepted choices.

This is Mary Kaye's coming-of-age story as she makes life decisions based on the diary, her faith, and her music, set against the background of illegal abortion and child abandonment in the 1963 Chicago world of civil rights and interracial jazz.  Will she decide to enter the convent because “There has never been another place where a Catholic woman without money of her own can pursue her intellectual interests.”?  Or will she pursue her dream of becoming a singer?

This book is a look at life for women in the early 60s before the women's movement when they had few choices in life.  The characters are well written - they aren't written as perfect and their flaws are part of who they are.  This is a wonderful historical fiction book that takes place as the world began to change -- women's rights and civil rights were just beginning to form their battle lines and the results of those battles are still being felt today. This coming of age novel is a must-read for people interested in the changes over the last 60 years.

Buy Blackbird Blues at Amazon

Blood Creek by Kimberly Collins

Blood Creek by Kimberly Collins
October 2019; Blue Mingo Press; 978-0990420828
ebook, print (460 pages); historical fiction
"The tears poured as she sobbed for all she had lost and all the dreams that had died inside her along the way.  She had been striving for so long to be the person she knew she could be, but she never quite made it there.  The closer she got to the edge of her dreams, the further back life would toss her to start over again and again." (p 86)

"She always wanted more than she had. Would it ever be enough?"

This is a novel about the 1912 West Virginia Mine Wars. The miners were in danger every day when they went below ground but were barely making enough to survive and feed their families. The mine owners were living the life of luxury and didn't care what the miners had to put up with as long as their money kept rolling in. In 1912, the miners carried out a strike and the owners threw them out of their company-owned shacks and threatened their lives to get them back to work.

The strike is shown through the eyes of two sisters and their cousin. The main character is Ellie. After having an affair with the town sheriff in her small mining town she gets pregnant, her husband kills her lover and she is forced to flee to the safety of her cousin Polly's home. After Ellie has her baby she moves to Charleston to find a better life and leaves her baby to be raised by her cousin's family. Polly's husband plays a strong role in the strike as does Ellie's sister Jolene and her husband. Early in the story, Ellie appears to be a spoiled brat only interested in the good life and her personal happiness. After she moves to Charleston, she has an affair with a rich official at the mining company and is torn between her new life and the family that she left behind in coal country who are now in jeopardy of losing their lives during the strike. Will Ellie decide that her family is more important than her luxurious life?

This is a fast-moving book full of danger and intrigue as well as family love and loyalty. Ellie as the main character was difficult to like in the beginning but by the last third of the book, I was worried about her safety and hoping for the best for her. It was very interesting to see the women's part in the mine wars and how much they sacrificed to help their families.

Be sure to read the Author's Note at the front of the book that gives information on which characters are based on people in her own family. She also outlines the parts of the story that really happened. She says this "Regardless of your stance on coal or organized labor, this story is about the workers. The people. Appalachia. It is the story of people who were robbed of their land, their constitutional rights, their liberty. their freedom, their dignity. We should all be thankful for their valiant pursuit of the workers' rights that we take for granted today."

This is the first book in the Mingo Chronicles. I look forward to reading more about these charters in the future.

Buy Blood Creek at Amazon

Bound in Flame by Katherine Kayne

Bound in Flame by Katherine Kayne
October 2019; Passionflower Press; 978-1733607704
ebook, print (373 pages); magical realism
"By the turn of the twentieth century, Hawaii was a study in contrasts. Cowboys and kahunas, wild pigs and steamships, hula dancers and rickshaws, land barons and mail-order brides made up the stuff and substance of the islands' colorful history."  (from an interview with the author)

The year is 1909 and Letty is returning to her Hawaiian home after being sent to boarding school in San Francisco where she was sent to learn to tame her temper.  She returns with a love of animals, a desire to be an independent woman and a plan to be a veterinarian.  Along with her plans for her life, she is a mākāhā, a Gate to the healing fires of the land, her beloved ‘aina. Letty must fight to harness the ancient power that lives within her, fueled by her connection to the islands. In other words, she is MAGIC.  She has to learn to handle the fire within her in her life to be able to find love and a life of freedom. Will she learn to control her magic so that she is able to have a successful life and find love?

To be totally honest, I enjoy historical fiction but do not like magical realism - or magic of any kind in my books so I had a difficult time reading this.  However, if you enjoy books with magic in them, you will love this book - the characters are well written, the setting in Hawaii is beautiful and the plotline is very well done. And most importantly there is a lot of information about the culture and history of Hawaii that I never knew and found very interesting to learn.

Buy Bound in Flame at Amazon

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling. She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on FacebookGoodreads, or Twitter

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