Water Song by Suzanne Weyn
Emma and her mother were trying to go back home to their family estate, but then the war happened and Emma’s mother was killed. She ended up on her own back at the large family estate, but the war comes there too. She gets a letter from her boyfriend breaking up with her because everyone thinks her mother ran off from her father while he was away at war. This wasn’t the case; it was a planned visit. She throws her family locket, with the boyfriend’s picture, into the well and almost immediately regrets it. How will she ever get it back?
Meanwhile, there is a man in the war and his unit is under a gas attack. He finds the water, as he always does, and he gets away. He happens to end up in the bottom of Emma’s well. She hears someone down there and helps to get him out, but is immediately confronted by the enemy. The two must pretend to be husband and wife while making plans to get away. The man asks for a kiss and Emma doesn’t want to give it, but more hardships come and Emma learns more about things that are important.
What I liked
This was a retelling of The Frog Prince and it was an interesting take. I liked the more romantic part of this. The story made Emma out to be less of a brat than the princess was in the book, but Emma was still a bit of a brat. I would have never thought about placing this story during a World War. I think that was an interesting way to make this story more modern than it actually is while still giving it a little enigma of age.
What I didn’t like
This is one of those “Oh you’ll like me eventually” sort of love stories. That doesn’t always work out. Maybe if you are patient, someone would like you eventually, but you know, maybe not. Maybe their opinion of you always considers that you’re a friend, or annoying, and they’re not going to love you. You cannot simply annoy someone until they decide to like you. If anything, annoying them would probably make them less likely to like you.
She kissed a frog! Aw, how sweet!
If you knew that kissing a frog would turn him into a prince that liked you, would you do it, even though you knew you would get Salmonella poisoning?
What does kissing a frog mean to you?
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
Joey remembers when he was taken away from his mother. He was a young colt then. His mother was sold off at the auction to the highest bidder and he could not go with her. Someone else bought Joey. He went to a farm with a young boy named Albert. This boy was nice to Joey, but Joey was unsure about the people as of yet. There was an older mare there who gave Joey comfort in his unfamiliar surroundings.
Some time past and Joey had grown to be fond of Albert, but money was tight and Joey was sold. There was a war going on. The soldiers who took Joey promised to take care of him. Joey made friends with another, older, war horse. He had to learn to walk among loud noises and gunshots. At one point he was taken by Germans, then lived with a girl named Emily, then taken again. Would Joey ever see a familiar face again amidst all of these loud noises and death?
What I liked
I thought this book was quite clever. It’s an interesting exercise to get inside the mind of an animal. War is tough enough, but war from a horse’s point of view must certainly be difficult. In looking at something human through an animal’s point of view, we lose that part of humanity that always has an ulterior motive. There are times when each and every one of us may justify a war, but would a horse, or a dog, or a dolphin, or whatever, ever justify a great war? An animal’s understanding of such a thing would be minimal. The animal would just see creatures who were the same type of creature, seemingly killing each other for no apparent reason.
The book was also emotionally touching. Horses are intelligent animals and I’m sure they can remember quite a bit. It’s a bit heart-warming to imagine a horse reuniting with someone they used to know.
What I didn’t like
Animal stories tend to be sad and this one wasn’t really an exception. Someone you grow to admire throughout the story always ends up dying, because they’re an animal and generally animals don’t have lifespans as long as those of humans. Sassy always goes over that waterfall, no matter how many times you watch the movie and it’s sad each time, let’s just be thankful she’s not actually dead. Mufasa always gets thrown off that cliff by Scar and it’s sad each and every time.
I forget where in the world I heard this, but there’s this saying that the US has never lost a war in which either horses or donkeys were involved. Maybe it was horses. I honestly think this quote was from one of the National Treasure movies.
If you reunited with a pet many years later, do you think that pet would remember you?
Would you send your pet to the war effort?
Maggie Rose and Sass by Eunice Boeve
Unfortunately, Maggie’s father died then she went to live with her grandmother, who also died. The only family member left for her to live with was her uncle. He lived far away in a town called Solomon Town. The town was not as Maggie expected when she arrived. She is surprised to find that she is the only white girl there. The town was almost entirely composed of people who were once slaves.
Maggie has never been around this many black people before and she believes a lot of the things her grandmother used to say about anybody who wasn’t white. She doesn’t want to make friends with the local girls, including one named Sass, who got her name purely because she was sassy.
Sass says that Maggie is nothing but an uppity white girl.
Both girls end up realizing that just because someone looks different doesn’t mean they’re any less human.
What I liked
I do tend to like books where children can learn that other people are people too. It doesn’t matter what color, gender, or whatever, they are. Other people are equally as valid as people, despite any differences. I do think this book does a fairly good job of having both children realize good things about the other. The book does acknowledge that one people could be unfair to the other.
What I didn’t like
This book does use the word “colored” a lot. I quit talking to a guy once because he called Barack Obama “colored,” and I’m not even that big of a fan of Barack. Look, sure, he’s not all the way white, but that doesn’t mean calling someone “colored” is ok. We’re all various colors. This book doesn’t have the more derogatory term in the text, which is good. Both terms are derogatory and you probably shouldn’t use them, but I do get that this author was trying to be a little more tactful and historically accurate by using the term she used. People didn’t go around saying “African-American” back when this book was set. They did say things that were worse than the word she did use though. I just don’t like hearing the term she did use.
To quote Dr. Suess–“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Just substitute in something else for “small,” and fix whatever grammar needed to make it make sense.
Do you think you could fit in a neighborhood where you were the only person of your race?
Was there a point when you came to appreciate all people as people or did you always do so?
Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck
Cixi was the last empress of China who outlived not only the emperor, but her son. At a young age, when she was known as Orchid, she was chosen to be a concubine for the current emperor. Her cousin was already a consort to the emperor. Orchid was able to find her way into the good graces of the emperor and soon was carrying his child. All hoped it would be a boy. The baby born to her cousin had been a girl, so there was still hope that a male heir would be born.
During all of this there was change and strife in the land of China. Ideas were changing and people became dissatisfied with the way things were ruled in the country. More and more foreigners were showing up, building their buildings, and bringing strange gods to the land.
The emperor was not long-lived. He died when his son was only five years old. Orchid, or Cixi, and her cousin, aided in ruling the land of China until the young emperor reached age. Despite having reached a ruling age, Cixi still held a lot of power in the land of China. At first, she hated foreigners, but decided to work with them to some degree. Her son died and she had to choose another to be emperor, but did not let go of much power. She played an important part in the ruling of China until her death in 1908.
What I liked
This is a historical fiction about real people. Cixi was real. She really did do a whole lot of ruling at a time when women weren’t doing a whole lot of ruling. In the book Cixi admired Queen Victoria, but the two never met, that I recall. Cixi’s rule was really the end of an era. It wasn’t too long after her death that China adopted much different ruling practices.
I admire the fact that Cixi came from pretty much nothing and was able to be elevated to the rank of empress. There was still a lot of tradition in the world this time which stated you had to be some sort of noble to get into a position like empress. You couldn’t just be the daughter of a merchant and be the queen of England one day. I admire the previous rule of China for this fact, even though there are a whole lot of things not to admire about it.
There was definitely a lot of great history in this book.
What I didn’t like
I didn’t particularly like the empress in the book. She seemed very ruthless. Maybe it’s because I’m not necessarily down with the idea of ruthless women. I certainly wouldn’t do anything and everything, regardless of feelings and others, to get and maintain power for myself. I also don’t really like the system that was in place. It all seemed very cat-fighty. The woman who had the emperor’s heart first, didn’t get to be the empress because she had a daughter instead of a son and that’s just unfortunate. Their whole world was determined by who had a daughter and who had a son. You could be promoted or put away just because of a penis. That’s not fair.
I also don’t really like the idea of polygamy at all. While the emperor wasn’t technically married to all of his concubines, he still had multiple women and I’m just not cool with that. It shouldn’t be a promoted habit for a man to go around sleeping with as many women as he wants, while he has a family.
Cixi rules all…
Would you ever be someone’s concubine?
Should ruling a country be a privilege only people from certain backgrounds can aspire to? Keep in mind, we do the same thing in the United States. Our presidents have money, lots of it. You can’t run for president on thirty-thousand dollars a year.
I, Pearl Heart by Jane Candia Coleman
Pearl was supposed to go back to her fancy boarding school, but she met Frank first. He promised her dancing. Her mother didn’t like Frank, probably because of his reputation as a gambler. This did not deter Pearl though. She ran off and eloped with Frank, going to New Orleans, where she quickly found out that Frank was an abusive jerk. He found any excuse to hit Pearl.
Pearl had enough after one particularly rough beating and left. She hopped on a train with a hobo and lit out for other parts. She got a job singing, but that bastard Frank showed up again. For a while, she and he tried to make their marriage work. They ended up with two kids. When she parted ways with Frank, again, the kids went to her mother’s, who was thoroughly disgraced by Pearl’s life. Pearl went off and did other things.
She got jobs and then she robbed a stage-coach and got arrested. Having a woman robber was quite the sensation and Pearl got a lot of attention, but life was not easy in prison. She was alone much of the time, until a couple of other women prisoners showed up, having committed their own terrible deeds. Prison wasn’t easy, but Pearl found a way to make terrible things be to her advantage.
What I liked
While this book may be fiction, Pearl was real. Look her up on Wikipedia. She was a real, stage-coach robbing, gun-toting, hard woman. While it’s not exactly the ideal of what a woman should be, it’s pretty neat. She had the guts to dress up like a man, when that was highly frowned upon and then go rob somebody, which isn’t very nice.
The fictionalized story is fun. Pearl is what you would call a “spitfire.” She’s not going to let anybody get her down, although it may seem like life really sucks sometimes.
Despite the fact that she’s not role model material, I do find her admirable. She did things women didn’t do during the time period and made them work.
What I didn’t like
Pearl’s first husband sounded awful. In the book Pearl cites being Catholic for her reason not to divorce her abusive, scumbag husband. Look, I don’t care if you’re Catholic, a gypsy, Mormon, FLDS, a Baptist, or a Pastafarian–if your husband, or wife, is physically abusive, you divorce their butt as fast as you can. If they’re mentally abusive and refuse to see their abuse, you divorce their butt as fast as you can. Abusers tend to stay abusers. There’s no point in prolonging your suffering, and your children’s suffering, if there are any, because of a religious ideology. Sure, yes, marriage can be sacred, but that depends upon each party involved keeping their side of the deal, which happens to include not being abusive to your spouse and/or children.
In real life, Pearl seemed to go back to her husband multiple times, which is sad. He was a loser and here she was this tough woman who assuredly didn’t really need a man, especially an abusive one.
I admire Pearl’s escapades, but feel bad about her being married to a jerk.
Are female outlaws of the old west fascinating or deplorable?
Do you think Pearl lived her life of crime because of her abuse?
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Paul has told his daughter some strange stories involving Dracula and a book. One day, Paul goes out, again, in search of something. As the story unfolds, we learn that Paul found a strange book. It was old and had no business being in the library. Paul goes to see his professor, a man named Rossi, to seek an explanation for the book. It’s about vampires alright, the Dracula, or Vlad Tepes, is the central figure in this story. Is he really dead? Are vampires real?
This is the last intellectual session Paul has with his professor because he just up and disappears one night, the professor not Paul. Paul plans to go off to Europe in search of his professor, but meets a woman named Helen. She says she is Rossi’s daughter. Yet more of the story comes out. Rossi had been in Europe and had met a beautiful young woman with a green dragon imprinted on her skin. It’s said the family is descended from Vlad. Rossi has to go on to other adventures in his historian life, leaving his lover alone in Europe.
As Helen and Paul find out more, stranger and stranger things keep happening. A scary librarian starts to tail the couple. They dig through documents. They visit other countries. They get chased down. Something develops between Helen and Paul. The mystery of Dracula is not solved with their trip though and the idea of him still lingers over the family, years later.
What I liked
This was my second attempt to read this book. I started, years ago, before I was ever married, when I was still in college, when I still worked at the nursing home. I tried. I tried valiantly to get into this book, but I never finished it. I carried around my copy, from move to move, until I donated several hundred books to a couple selling books to raise money for an adoption back in 2015. The book just didn’t grab my attention then, which is strange seeing as I’ve been all over some Dan Brown, which is quite similar to this book. I was able to finish the book this time, though; listening to it helped.
I do really like the history in this book. Elizabeth did her research, a lot of it. She got all that weird crap about Dracula correct. He was a warlord. He was considered a hero to an extent. He did impale people. His grave really was empty. He really did build churches. Apparently, he thought God would be cool with him impaling people as long as he made churches in return. While he was a savvy man in the political and war arenas, he was not a nice man.
This book did have that Dan Brown feel to it, which makes it intellectually stimulating.
What I didn’t like
I don’t believe in vampires. I don’t believe Dracula is alive somewhere or that he’s amassing a personal library and stealing scholars to tend to it. While the history surrounding Dracula is absorbing, I feel that a book suggesting Dracula is real, presented in a real-world manner, is a bit much. It’s not my cup of tea. Really, Dracula is out there, as a vampire, sucking blood, and stuff?
If you find a strange book at the library, you kind of have to read it.
Could someone ever convince you that Dracula is alive and well?
What do you think about historical thrillers? Yeah or nay?