Fates and Traitors by Jennifer Chiaverini

The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln was an event that shattered many lives, involving many more people than is glazed over in middle school history lessons. John Wilkes Booth is portrayed as a crazed actor who decided to murder the president in a theater while he watched a play.

Most people don’t realize that Booth’s actions affected many lives and lead to the ruin of his associates and family members. Fates and Traitors, by Jennifer Chiaverini, examines what if must have been like for three women who never met one another, but whose lives were changed forever that day that Booth committed his crime.

Booth’s mother and siblings, who didn’t even share his political sentiments, lost friends, careers, and met with serious shame and social isolation in the aftermath of the terrible event-and all knowing that their beloved but difficult family member had committed a terrible crime and met with a terrible end.

Miss Lucy Hale was a lovely debutante and daughter of a Union senator who was enchanted by John Wilkes Booth and his charms and found herself dragged into the tabloids when her youthful near-engagement to the assassin was dragged into the media. Heartbroken, she dealt with serious shock and reputation deterioration and her father’s own loyalties were questioned.

Mary Surratt ran a boarding house which served Confederate sympathizers, and her establishment became a place at the center of the plots which eventually lead to the murder of the president. Fringe-involved as she was, she met the noose with the rest of the plotters, leaving her daughter motherless.

So many lives affected by the actions of one man who believed he was saving the country. Fates and Traitors is a great reading choice for American history lovers, especially if you enjoy seeing the lives of women who made history in their own way, but never made it into the textbooks.

Travel and Reads : Mark Twain and Hannibal, MO

 

So I’ve decided to devote a few posts each year to my geeky booknerd travel escapades. Normally I just review books and keep it simple, but lately my wanderlust has gotten a little out of control (blame it on my 30s creeping in) and I know I’m not the only nerd out there who thinks literary travel is the best idea ever.

Last summer my husband dragged me on a 20+ hour road trip to visit his grandparents, who live by Lake Michigan (we live in Colorado), and I was originally totally opposed to the idea (what is there to see in Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana on the route between? NOTHING.). But I decided to be a good sport and put my best foot forward. I logged onto Google Maps to look at the route and noticed some little gold stars only a little skip from the route. At one point I had saved the Mark Twain Boyhood Home, Riverboat, and Mark Twain Caves in hopes that one day I would visit them. With a little prodding, my husband agreed to stay the night in Hannibal, MO and hit a few geek-out spots before finishing our trip to Michigan. That little side trip turned out to be the highlight of 2015 for me!

Hannibal is a small town, everything is very green and the mighty Mississippi runs through it. Believe it or not, I was bummed that I couldn’t stay longer, apparently the city offers Ghost Tours at night, Riverboat rides, and there’s a lighthouse you can visit. I saw these places but my husband wanted to get on the road so our visit had to be limited to top picks.

So first off we visited the Mark Twain Boyhood Home. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) came from a family that was pretty well-to-do and the house is near the river. Visitors can imagine Huckleberry Finn climbing aboard a raft, running from the law or heading out for adventure. The possibilities are endless and it’s easy to see where the author got his greatest ideas.

Next we walked down to the river, which was swollen and muddy thanks to serious rainfall recently, but somehow that made it even more “mighty” and amazing. Definitely the widest river I’ve ever seen in person. We could see the Mark Twain Riverboat docked on the shore.

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It began to rain, so we ran to the truck and headed to the Mark Twain Caves for a tour. Let me recommend to everyone that athletic shoes that can get dirty are probably best. I wore sandals and it wasn’t pretty. As you travel through the caves the guide gives detailed description of Tom Sawyer’s adventures and the  inspiration Clemens derived from playing in the never-ending caves as a boy.  The icing on the cake was a brief mention that the outlaw Jesse James and his crew hid out in the back of the caves after robbing a local bank, and they even signed the wall. All-in-all, we all loved the cave tour and I highly recommend it to all of you adventure-loving booknerds.

Before you visit, be sure to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures Huckleberry Finn, if you can’t get your hands on even more Mark Twain literature! Look forward to more booknerd travel posts in the future and please feel free to comment if you have any awesome literary travel spots to share!

 

Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise: by Oscar Hijuelos

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When I heard about Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise, by Oscar Hijuelos, I was intrigued by a novel that claimed to be about a decades-long friendship between Mark Twain and his friend, Sir Henry Morton Stanley (who was supposed to be a legendary explorer but admittedly, I had to look him up).

I adore reading about friendships between literary greats. I’ve thrown myself whole-heartedly into Hemingway and his expat literary and artist friends, I adored reading the amazing J.R.R. Tolkien and his friend C.S. Lewis…The very idea that two literary geniuses might sit and have a discussion together makes me wish I could have been a fly on a wall somewhere…Under a beach chair, in a seedy bar in Paris, in a Gatsby-like party wherein F. Scott Fitzgerald had too many drinks. The location doesn’t even matter because it would have been fascinating no matter what. So naturally I figured that Twain and Stanley must have been amazing together. A famous explorer of Welsh origins who wrote travel books about his exploits in Africa and the iconic American literary great, Mark Twain (also known as Samuel Clemens)…How could they have met? What did they have in common to extend the communication between them for more than 30 years?

I had the extremely good fortune to stay in the hometown of Mark Twain (Clemens), Hannibal, Missouri late last summer and I stood on the banks of the muddy and mighty Mississippi river and watched a riverboat at the dock, saw his home and the caves that inspired Tom Sawyer. I think Mark Twain is fascinating. He faced so much tragedy but he still had optimism that people could learn to do the right thing, it’s all over his writing and it’s evident in the way he lived his life. He had many children, he traveled the globe, he gave lectures in intellectual circles, and he stayed with his wife until she passed away and brought her with him on his travels whenever she was able. So a man he thought was a worthy friend must have been an amazing person…Right?

Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise, by Oscar Hijuelos, did not glorify Sir Henry Morton Stanley. He was as different from Twain as is possible. Which I struggled with the entire novel. I didn’t understand their friendship at all except that I believe that the author saw a sympathy for Stanley in Mark Twain, and that optimism deep within him had hope that Stanley was a good man. And maybe he was. What the novel did best was show that the two men were very human. Not just famous figures but real men with real troubles and human failings. I try to tell myself that’s a positive thing. Because honestly, I’m not sure I could have tolerated Stanley for a day, maybe not even an hour. Which probably makes it an extremely well-written book. I wish I could have enjoyed it more.

So I would love to hear from other readers about their own impressions after reading Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise. If you haven’t read it, and you want to give it a try, the audio version by Hachette Audio is impeccably narrated and very enjoyable to the ears.

 

 

 

 

Stella Bain, by Anita Shreve

 

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A woman is found wandering, lost, confused and ill during World War I. A kind and generous couple takes her into their home and nurses her back to health, realizing with time that the self-named Stella Bain actually has no idea who she is, and has no place to go. The couple observes only that she has been serving in the war, based on her uniform, and that she has an American accent.

Stella must overcome her amnesia and get her life back-but how long will it take? Does she have family and friends who are worrying about her? Why can’t she push away the nagging guilt that arises whenever she tries to remember who she is? What if she doesn’t want to know the truth about her past?

Suddenly, it all comes back to Stella, and she must decide what to do with the rest of her life and rediscover who the real woman inside her wants to be.

Stella Bain is very historical fiction/women’s fiction in genre. The tone is very serious and rich in description and sentiment. I found it to be an excellent audiobook to hear at work- but I also have a special weakness for historical fiction set during the Great War-I just think it was a great time for women to start showing the world what they were made of, don’t you?!

 

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

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America’s first astronauts are a proud part of our history as a country. These men tested experimental equipment, were launched on death-defying missions, and risked their lives nearly every day they went to work. The media couldn’t get enough of these heroic icons, representing the progress of the U.S. in science and technology. Unfortunately, while the media was having a heyday over these men and the accomplishments of NASA, they were also fascinated by the women who stood by these remarkable men–the Astronaut wives. These women married risk-taking, proud, ambitious men, but they never dreamed that they would one day be on the cover of Life magazine, interviewing with journalists about what it was like to have your husband shot into space.

This true account (non-fiction) of the Astronaut Wives’ Club outlines the politics of the time, the technological advancements and disasters that lead to finally landing on the moon, orbiting the country, and more. Anyone interested in American history and the fascinating women who could wait in a suburban home for an astronaut to come home for dinner each day–and the remarkable things they did themselves, without getting much credit for their strength of character and bravery themselves.

Fully recommend this read to anyone who likes non-fiction, especially regarding women’s issues and the changing politics in history regarding the role of the female. Top marks! And if you like to listen to your non-fiction via audiobook, Hachette Audio has made The Astronaut’s Wives Club into an audiobook that is impeccably narrated and a great option.

 

 

Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard by Sally Cabot

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We all know that our Founding Fathers were, for the most part, very human and flawed. Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson top the list with sex scandals of their own, but many don’t realize that our beloved Benjamin Franklin, inventor of the Lightning Rod, Bifocal lenses, and the urinary catheter, had his own scandals to live with. For a start, good old scholarly and political Ben had an “illegitimate” son with a woman whose identity is unknown in present time. Benjamin Franklin acknowledged this child as his own and he was called William Franklin.

The story of the relationship between Benjamin Franklin and his son, William, is the storyline for Sally Cabot’s novel, Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard. The author takes creative liberty in regards to the mystery woman who is William’s mother, making her a serving girl in a pub, and tracing her life as she pines for her son, but cannot provide for him on her own, so remains a stranger to him, watching from afar, but the strife between William and Benjamin is likely to be close to accurate, as William was a self-proclaimed Loyalist to the British crown, and Benjamin wanted the New World to have its freedom at last. The two men went separate ways and were great men in their own ways, also. The parallels between the lives of both men, and the differences between them make for an excellent story with a lot of historical backbone that anyone who loves American History will love.

This novel is not humorous or romantic, but an excellent portrayal of what it might have been like as the son of Benjamin Franklin, founding father, brilliant inventor and philosopher, and legend.