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.

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.

 

 

 

 

The Reluctant Midwife : A Hope River Novel by Patricia Harman

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If you read Patricia Harman’s The Midwife of Hope River, you will be thrilled to learn that the story continues with The Reluctant Midwife.

The Midwife of Hope River told the story of Patience Murphy, serving as a midwife in the strain of the Great Depression, in the backwoods rural town near a mining camp. The heroine had heartbreak, made friends, made a life for herself and found love.

The Reluctant Midwife is about her friend, nurse Becky Myers. Hard times have hit everyone, but Becky has found herself in a unique situation. The doctor she worked for had a complete mental breakdown and has been a shell of a man ever since. He can’t speak, can’t work, can barely feed himself. His own family refuses to take on his care and she was the only person who cared enough to make sure he got treatment. Now she has gone to Hope River to find a life for herself, but she finds that the Depression has had drastic effects on the people and economy of the place. There is little work and only a shack of a house to live in while she tries desperately to find work.

But better things may be on the horizon for Becky as she learns to trust others and accept help, and she learns the solidarity of a self-made family. Perhaps there is hope for Becky, for Dr. Blum, even for Patience Murphy and her family and the rest of the residents of Hope River.

Patricia Harman’s portrayal of the historical era is poignant and sharp, brutally honest but full of hope and spirit. If you enjoy historical fiction with a little more substance and heartache, The Reluctant Midwife is for you. If you haven’t read The Midwife of Hope River, I recommend that you purchase both novels at once.