Tag Archives: history

Book Review: We Came Here to Shine – Historical Fiction Takes Readers to the 1939 World’s Fair

We Came Here to Shine

By Susie Orman Schnall

Vivi Holden and Maxine (Max) Roth are two different women on very different paths in life. Little did they know that they would become best friends amidst the awe and wonder of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City.

Max is a fledgling writer trying to make her way in a man’s world. The summer internship she covets is working for the New York Times. Her reality is being assigned to write the daily newspaper for the World’s Fair by her professor at NYU. Unfortunately, she is not the only one assigned to the Fair. Charlie, a fellow classmate will be working along side of Max. Charlie is assigned all of the coveted articles only because the boss feels women are better at organizing rather than actually being good writers.

Vivi is an actress that has been sent to NY from LA to become the lead swimmer in the Aquacade production. With an impossibly short time to learn the routine and the fact that she has not been in a pool since high school, she is up a creek without a paddle. To make matters worse, the person assigned to teaching her the difficult routines has been filling the role Vivi is taking. The only reason she has agreed to the part is because her manager has promised her the lead in a film as soon as the Fair closes.

Max and Vivi meet after listening to feminist Elizabeth Dorchester’s speech at the Democracity exhibit at the Fair. They quickly bond as both are inspired by the message of equality for women. Soon they are sharing their hopes, dreams and frustrations with each other. Vivi’s manager holds her life and career in his hands and Max’s editor holds her fate as a serious reporter in his. Both women will need to struggle and claim the path in life they want and need to take. Unfortunately, most women in 1939 are at the mercy of the men that employ them. Unbeknownst to them, both girls will become part of the movement to change the mindset of men and women alike as they fight for their personal rights to be heard.

We Came Here to Shine is like stepping into the past on a guided tour with friends. The characters are realistic and interesting. I enjoy the depth of each of the girls. They are dealing with not only equality issues, but deep personal issues as well. The World’s Fair looms bigger than life for the characters as well as the readers. The innovations that are detailed in this fascinating book are fun to experience with the characters. What is now outdated or taken for granted is all brand new for Vivi and Max as well as those who attend the 1939 World’s Fair.

This is the second book I’ve read by Susie Orman Schnall. I love the nod to the other book I read, The Subway Girls, that Ms. Orman Schnall weaves seamlessly into We Come Here to Shine. Her knowledge and research paint a beautiful background for her characters in both novels. I highly recommend both of these books. Both of them have solid, interesting plots that take

the reader back in time. Actual events in history are combined with interesting fictional people creating two of the best historical fiction novels I have ever read. I highly recommend them.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright ©2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: A Shadowed Fate – Intriguing Historical Mystery Series

A Shadowed Fate

A Lord Byron Mystery

By Marty Ambrose

In this second book of the Lord Byron Mystery trilogy, Claire Clairmont has grown old but not elderly. She has lived through the loss of Lord Byron, the man she loved even after he left her for another woman. Many years ago, she bore his daughter but realized she could not raise her alone. It was not acceptable in 1816. She sent her child, Allegra, to live with Lord Byron. For reasons unclear to Claire, he sent Allegra to live in a convent where the child succumbed to illness and died. But recent revelations have hinted that Claire’s daughter lives. She is determined to find her daughter before she dies. So begins her quest for the truth.

Claire lives with her niece and grandniece in genteel poverty. She has personal letters from Lord Byron that would fetch a more than generous price, but cannot let go of the writings of a man she loved so deeply. When Trelawny, a man she and Byron once knew, brings her a valuable sketch that Byron wanted her to have, she sees relief in their money situation. But Trelawny also brings her hope that her daughter has not died, but had been hidden away by Byron because she was in grave danger.

Danger has touched Claire and her family before, bringing death and sorrow into their home. Now, amidst the hope of finding Allegra, Claire and her loved ones are robbed of the sketch that would have eased their money problems. More disconcerting is the fact that Claire and those she loved may now be in mortal danger. Getting closer to discovering the secrets of the past could prove fatal for one or all of them.

A Shadowed Fate is a continuation of Claire’s Secret. While I do not think anyone would be confused by reading it without reading the first book in the series, I still recommend reading them in order. The fascinating way Ms. Ambrose weaves the real-life drama of Claire, Lord Byron and Mary Shelly (author of Frankenstein and Claire’s step-sister) into the plot takes the readers to a different level than most mysteries. But do not discount the solid plot lines and twist in the mystery of Allegra’s fate and the person or persons that are willing to do anything to obtain items associated with Lord Byron.

By opening both Claire’s Secret and A Shadowed Fate the reader must slow down a bit to appreciate the style in which Ms. Ambrose writes. It is literary, yet contemporary and easy to read. The prose takes readers to a different place than most current novels. Each chapter has quotes from The Prophecy of Dante written by Lord Bryon in 1819, published in 1821, setting the scene for the reader to settle back and enjoy. I highly recommending you do just that.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review. Copyright ©2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Fortunate Son – Memoir That Reads Like a Novel

Fortunate Son

The story of baby boy Francis

By Brooks Eason

Pregnant girls were hidden in the 1950’s, most of them giving up their children at birth or shortly thereafter. This is the story of one such child. Paul Brooks Eason was born in New Orleans to a college student, and came to live with his adoptive parents and sister (also adopted).

Fast forward to 2004, Tupelo, Mississippi. Brooks’ father, now 82, receives a phone call from a lawyer in New Orleans who is looking for a man named Paul Eason, age 46. Apparently, there has been a nationwide search for the man that was adopted because he is potentially the heir to a fortune.

So begins Brooks’ journey to find out about his birth mother, and the wealthy family he was born into. He dropped his first name and is known by Brooks to friends, family and the clients who retain his services as a lawyer. He has done quite well for himself and is happy with his life both as a child in a loving family and as a grown man with a family of his own. He is intrigued by his newfound connection with his birth family.

Life has a way of repeating itself, and this family is no different. But the way they react is absolutely opposite from the way Ann Lowrey (Eason’s birth mother) and his daughter Ann Lowrey’s pregnancy was approached. His mother honestly had no choice but to give up her child. His daughter, made the choice to continue going to school, bring her daughter into the world and raise her as a single mother with the full support and love of her family.

The author takes us through a first hand account of history through the eyes of his adoptive family as well as the family he was born into. It is fascinating to hear details from 1886 to the present through the filter of someone who lived them and passed family stories down to each generation that follows. Honestly, it is like sitting down to dinner with my dad, listening about his childhood. Adding a human touch and warmth to experiences we’ve read about in history books is exactly what Eason has done to pull the reader in and hold you until the last pages of Fortunate Son.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from publicist Maryglenn McCombs in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Oldest Student – How Mary Walker Learned to Read

The Oldest Student,

How Mary Walker Learned to Read

By Rita Lorraine Hubbard

Illustrations by Oge Mora

Mary Walker was born into slavery in 1848 and always dreamed to be free. At fifteen, she and her family were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. As fabulous as freedom was, she still worked long hard days for very little money.

She really wanted to learn how to read, but there was no time for that. She received a Bible that she cherished but could not read. The time she would have spent learning to read was taken up with working and raising her family. She still longed to make sense of the squiggles she saw in books.

At age 114, she was living in a retirement home. A new reading class was announced in her building and Mary was determined to follow her dream of learning to read. She studied long and hard and finally the scribbles turned into words. She could read her beloved Bible. The US Department of Education proclaimed she was officially the nation’s oldest student.

The Oldest Student shares the true-life story of an amazing American, Mary Walker. The easy to read story is perfect for children ages 5 to 9, but not limited to this age group. It will spark inspiration to children who may be having trouble with reading or learning to do something else they are struggling with and inspire them to never give up just like Ms. Walker.

Award winning author Rita Lorraine Hubbard is also the author of several other books. One of which, Hammering for Freedom, I have read and enjoyed.

Copyright © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The House on Maple Street – Spectacular New Author

The House on Maple Street

By Heidi Slowinski

Student Hillary Altman procrastinated until two weeks before school started to find housing. Fueled by waning options and a tight budget, she was excited to see two signs as she cruised around the small town. “Maple Street Boarding House” read the sign by the curb and a hastily written “room for rent” in the window made her stop. The creepy landlord almost made her change her mind, but the charm of the home overrode her anxiety.

Settling in with the other boarders came easily, but she avoided Keith, the landlord. Evelyn, an older woman that actually worked at the college Hillary was to attend, is diving into the layers of the history of the Maple Street home and shares the fascinating facts with the other boarders. Dr. Immerman also works at the college as head of the history department. Then there was Robert. Hillary met him on the day she moved in and became infatuated with the handsome man who seemed rather shy. He doesn’t join them for dinner in the evening and, as a matter of fact, none of the other tenants have seen or talked to him. In addition to the boarders, Beatrice takes care of the home. She cooks and cleans for them and is related to Keith, the landlord.

Shortly after moving in, Hillary encounters a woman and her young son in the home. Apparently, Keith has a family. Sadly, Hillary overhears the fights and sounds of abuse from Keith’s rooms. No one else seems to know anything about it but she is determined to help, even if it puts her in danger.

The House on Maple Street on the surface is a well-done mystery. As the pages unfold, the reader is pulled into a story that is multi-layered with a delightfully surprising ending. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, I was surprised to find out I was totally wrong even though all the clues were there for me to see. Kudos to Ms. Slowinski for creating an unexpectedly spectacular twist in the final chapter.

This is the first book written by Ms. Slowinski. It is exciting to find a new author that jumps out of the gate to lead the pack. I highly recommend The House on Maple Street. This fast-paced book engages the reader immediately and is  must read for anyone who loves a mystery.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Reedsy Discovery in exchange for a fair and honest review. https://reedsy.com/discovery  Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Charles Manson and the Killing of Shorty Shea

Charles Manson and the Killing of Shorty Shea

By Edwin Colin

with Deb Silva

As an eight-year-old, Edwin Colin, the author of this book, knew Shorty. It was 1953 when Colin’s father wars hired to be a full-time foreman at Corriganville, a Movie Ranch in nearby Simi Valley. Corriganville was owned by the famous stunt rider, Crash Corrigan, who was also and friend of Shorty Shea. So begins Colin’s fascination with the man who will be killed by Charles Manson and his followers right before the infamous  Tate and LaBianca murders.

Charles “Shorty” Shea was many things in his life. He was a horse wrangler, stuntman, husband, a U. S. Military Veteran and a victim of Charles Manson and his Family. Shorty wanted to be an actor in Westerns, but he seemed to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time. By the time he made enough connections in the business, Westerns were not getting the funding to be produced as audiences no longer flocked to them.

He spent his last years working on the Spahn Ranch. He took care of the livestock, did some Wild West shows for dwindling crowds and had the unfortunate fate of meeting Charles Manson. Manson and his Family basically moved into Spahn Ranch and took it over. The owner, George Spahn was getting older and was nearly blind by the time Manson and his followers descended upon his property. For whatever reason, he let them stay.

Some say that Shorty’s death was a direct result of not ignoring Charles Manson. Not one to ever back down from confrontation, he did not like Manson and everyone knew it. Sadly, his stubbornness was most likely the reason Charles Manson, Tex Watson, Bruce Davis and Steve Grogan murdered him in cold blood on August 26, 1969.

Colin weaves a sordid insider look at the murder of Shorty Shea and subsequent deaths of Sharon Tate and the LaBiancas. With Deb Silva, the duo uncovered death certificates, autopsy results and firsthand accounts of the horrific crimes committed by the Manson Family. The small facts that surrounded the Spahn Ranch and those that lived there are fascinating to me. There are connections to famous actors, TV shows and events that most have heard of, but from a different, closer perspective. For example, one of men that participated in Shea’s death is now out of prison and another one is up for parole this year – but has dementia.

Charles Manson and the Killing of Shorty Shea is an entertaining work of non-fiction. The book is fascinating, but at times disjointed. There was a bit of repetition, as the author seemed to give the facts ahead of the timeline, then repeated with more detail later. Overall, it was an interesting insider look into the lives of the Manson Family as well as Shorty Shea and all of the people they encountered during this brief period of history.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from  Reedsy Discovery (https://reedsy.com/discovery/book/charles-manson-and-the-killing-of-shorty-shea-edwin-colin) in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Girls of Pearl Harbor – Page Turning Historical Fiction

The Girls of Pearl Harbor

By Soraya M. Lane

 

Sisters April and Grace, along with their best friend Poppy are on an adventure. At least for now that is what it feels like. The girls have been close for years, and when April decided to follow her dream to become a nurse in the military, Poppy and Grace went along. They were far from dedicated in the beginning; Grace couldn’t even stand the sight of blood. But all of them made it through nursing school and enlisted. Their assignment was in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It was 1941 and they seemed to spend more time on the beach than nursing, which was working out fine for Grace.

Then tragedy struck. Pearl Harbor was attacked. Life as they had grown accustom to was forever changed. People very close to them died that day and the wounded needed the nurse’s care more than ever before.

After the initial tragic days, it was evident the girls might not be staying in Pearl Harbor because they needed to be closer to the action to help our wounded soldiers. When April decided to go to Africa, her sister insisted on going also. They were needed there, but the living conditions were poor and the injuries were much worse than they encountered in Hawaii.

Their personal lives were in turmoil as well. Grace trying to be her own person and April always trying to mother her didn’t help. The girls love and depend upon each other, but even sisters have secrets they don’t want to share.

The Girls of Pearl Harbor allows the reader to enter an historical event from an angle different than most. All Americans as well as most of the world have heard about the attack that brought the United States into the war, but the characters bringing the reality to readers from each of their different perspectives was very interesting.

I also liked that choice of the girls going to Africa instead of the South Pacific as was expected. I didn’t realize that much fighting during the war was based there, as well as the brave nurses and other medical personnel that were needed to care for the wounded.

The characters were interesting and multidimensional. The growth in the nurses, as well as the way each of them handled their job as well as their personal losses, was an integral part of the plot and well done. The only thing that didn’t ring true was the amount of time they spent holding each other’s hands, grasping hands, clutching hands…it seemed as though they could not walk anywhere without all of them holding hands like toddlers. I even asked my aunt who lived on the base at Pearl Harbor while her husband was stationed there in the late 1940s if women held hands all the time. She answered no, they did not. I understand once in a while when someone is upset, but it got to be too frequent for me, taking away from the story.

Overall, The Girls of Pearl Harbor was very interesting and the characters likeable. I recommend it to fans of historical fiction and women’s fiction.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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