“The Matchmaker’s Gift” by Lynda Cohen Loigman 

Genre: Historical Fiction/Women’s Fiction The match makers gift
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date: Sept. 20, 2022

This novel is women’s fiction written in the form of historical fiction. I suspected as much after reading the blurb. I’m not usually a fan of women’s fiction, but the Lower East Side of Manhattan is the setting of one of the protagonists in the story. My home was in that neighborhood decades ago, in a subsidized apartment not far from the district’s gritty alleys and tenement-style apartments, which in the 1970s, were filled with the neighborhood’s Jewish, Italian and Chinese heritage. I read the book out of nostalgia.

In this dual timeline novel, the author weaves together the tale of a young Jewish child named Sara and her granddaughter, Abby. Sara, in 1910 discovers that she is blessed with the gift of finding marriage matches but only for those in true love. This gift remained with her until she passed away in her golden years. She explains to Abby that when she has found two soul mates, she simply knows, sees, and feels it. In this story, there is a lot of sweet-natured magical realism. Her granddaughter refuses to believe in such nonsense. That is until after her grandmother’s death when she recognizes that she, too, possesses the ability.

Loigman brings feminism into the novel long before it was even a word. When Sara was in her twenties, devout older men who do not believe a matchmaker should be female take Sara to a religious court in an attempt to stop her matchmaking. Without giving spoilers, I will share the decision was not very believable. I loved reading about my old hangouts but this book while charming was too predictable for me to truly enjoy.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“West With Giraffes” by Lynda Rutledge

Genre: Historical Fiction/Coming of AgeWest with Giraffes
Publisher:  Lake Union Publishing
Pub. Date: Feb. 2021

Itsy-Bitsy Review

An old man relives the adventures of his youth while he spends his last days in a nursing home. Reminiscent to the novel, “Water for Elephants,” “West With Giraffes” is also a romantic period drama set in the Depression.  It too is part: historical fiction, coming-of-age, an unconventional love story, and discovering that animals can be your most meaningful friends. “West” is based on the true story of two giraffes that made headlines for surviving an overseas trip where they were left for dead. The tale is a good one, giving us a snapshot of the extreme culture of zoos, but the writing often had a predictable feel—one too many clichés. However, I did appreciate that the author included the actual newspaper clippings on the giraffes in her novel.  It added authenticity to the story. Possibly, because I am a huge fan of “Elephants,” with its flawless pacing that I did not see in “Giraffes,” unfairly influenced this review.  Still, I recommend that you try this novel if you enjoy historical fiction centering on animals. I believe, like “Elephants,” the novel would make a very good movie.

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“The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane” by Lisa See

Genre: Historical FictionThe Tea Girl
Publisher: Scribner
Pub. Date: March 21, 2017

I did not receive this book from the publisher. It was a gift. Technically, that means I do not have to write a review. Nevertheless, See is such a gifted writer that I wanted to share my thoughts on “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane.” I know from reading See’s previous novels that her writing will combine a haunting tale that is hard to put down with gripping depictions of Chinese history. In her 2005 novel, “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” one reads vivid descriptions of the excruciating process of footbinding, where daughters were crippled in the name of beauty. Still, the reader comes to have compassion for the characters that inflict and enable this violence.

With “Tea,” See explores another horrifying Chinese practice: the killing of newborn twins. What makes this story even more shocking than “Snow Flower” is that the tale is set in 1988. See transports readers to a remote mountain village where we meet the Akha people. While immersing us in Akha’s rituals and taboos, See reveals that twins are considered a bad omen. Custom requires their father to immediately kill the newborns, even if one is a boy. Furthermore, the parents are then run out of town. Their house and all of their possessions are set on fire—that is the Akha way. As in “Snow Flower,” “Tea” will cause you heartache for unexpected parties. In this case, parents who’ve murdered their children. Once again, by drawing us into her world, See denies us any illusion that we might have behaved any differently under the same circumstances.

“Maybe our lives are like gigantic jigsaw puzzles,” the novel’s female protagonist muses. “You find the right piece and suddenly the whole picture has meaning.” She is the only daughter of a tea-growing family who, after witnessing the murder of newborn twins, begins to question the practice. “The birth of the twins and what happened to them, although traditional, has transformed me as irreversibly as soaking cloth in a vat of dye.” The author’s poetic language allows us to experience the disturbing with a sense of intimacy that we cannot obtain from flat historical records. As a result, “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane” succeeds not only as a unique study of violence, but its remedies. “Rice is to nourish. Tea is to heal.”

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“Bonnie” by Christina Schwarz

Genre: Historical FictionBonnie
Publisher: Atria Books
Pub. Date: July 7, 2020

Romancing outlaw celebrities makes for good storytelling in novels and hit movies.  Henry Fonda portrayed the likable Jessie James. Paul Newman and Robert Redford played Butch Cassidy and Harry Longabaugh, better known as the Sundance Kid.  And in their glory years, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway played the lawless, love-struck Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. The real-life Bonnie would have loved a movie about her since she always wanted to be an actress.  In this historical fiction, the author examines how Bonnie Parker went from being a bright, poetry-writing girl who hated guns to one of the most famous hoodlums of her time. At the age of 17, Bonnie married her high school sweetheart, who ran off early in their marriage. Bonnie never divorced. Later, as a bored waitress, she met Clyde. She was 19 and he was 21. She was living at home with her mother and had never been in trouble. He was already stealing for a living with a brother in jail for theft. She willingly traded her honest life for the excitement of Clyde. They came from Christian families who were mortified that Bonnie was still married while sleeping with Clyde. I did get such a chuckle out of that fact. Nevermind their violent crimes. Still, in this novel, one gets the feeling that they were just two kids from a Dallas slum who fell in love and longed for some fun.

The author reminds the reader that their bank-robbing days took place during the early years of the Depression, when most couldn’t find work, making it easier to forgive the wayward couple. Schwarz shows the reader how Bonnie and Clyde were influenced by the public’s fondness for Jessie James and his gang. In a way, they were victims of their time. They too wanted to be loved from afar, bringing a little entertainment to the poverty-stricken nation. They acted as if their lives were being played out on the big screen. We learn that Bonnie never smoked a cigar or used a machine gun; those infamous pictures were taken for laughs. Bonnie was a pretty girl nonetheless, always happy to have her picture in the papers. Plus, it was clear from the pictures that she and Clyde had powerful chemistry, which helped her maintain her romantic view of their crimes. She liked to imagine herself as a blonde Clara Bow. And in reality, even as a little girl, she did have that “It Girl” personality, loveable and attention-grabbing. It was fun for them, and the public, to watch them elude the law. The author makes it clear how easy it was for people to cheer on these unlikely heroes from the safety of their own homes.

We get a sympathetic picture of their private lives. When Clyde’s brother and his sister-in-law join them to become part of the Barrow Gang, they rent an apartment to live in between heists. The women sound like newlyweds when fixing up the place. It is tenderly written how they played house while pretending to be normal people. However, when the crimes became murderous (though sometimes they were charged with murders that they did not commit), they lost the publics’ favor. As their fame exploded, life on the run became untenable. Schwarz skillfully shows how, near the end of their run, the characters’ exhaustion and desperation overwhelmed them. They came to await their inevitable deaths, hoping only to see their mothers one last time.

“Bonnie” is a well-researched novel, yet it never feels dry with facts. Still, as a woman, I felt that I never really understood why Bonnie stayed with Clyde when life got too tough. This was not as expertly explained as other areas of her life. This is disappointing since I thought that was the reason for the writing of yet another book on the couple. Did Bonnie stay because it was about standing by your man? She did believe that theirs was a love story and not a gangster tale. Did she really prefer death in the spotlight to being a bored waitress? Or, as I think the author intended us to imagine, she simply got too caught up in it all to leave while she, herself, was still not a wanted woman?  Maybe I am forgetting just how young she was.  She was killed at the age of 23-years-old. Whatever her reasons were, she would have been thrilled to know that the movie about her fame even had a hit song entitled “The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde.”  For Bonnie that would have been the best of eulogies.

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“The Thirty Names of Night” by Zeyn Joukhadar

Genre: LGBTQ/Historical FictionThe Thirty Names of Night
Publisher: Atria Books
Pub. Date: November 3, 2020

There is so much going on in this beautifully written novel. You will meet artists and three generations of Syrian American women. You will learn about French-occupied Syria during the early twentieth century, as well as a long-forgotten NYC neighborhood called Little Syria.  You will also read about birds and ghosts.  The author mixes up the genres. There is historical fiction, literary fiction, magical realism, coming-of-age, speculative fiction, and always LGBTQ fiction.  All the main characters in this novel are queer. There are two alternating narrators, one from the late 1920s and one from the present. In the present, we meet a young trans man, who moves into his grandmother’s NYC apartment to take care of her since her health is failing. In the past, the female protagonist is also an artist. She paints mysterious birds.  The three generations of Syrian Americans are linked together by their secrets, their art, and—here is the magical realism—a species of a bird that wears feathers that seem to hold the key to unlocking their secrets and allowing the characters to break free from society’s restrictions.

When the author wrote his debut novel, “Map of Salt,” he identified as a woman. He now identifies as a man. I mention this in light of the fact that the trans male protagonist talks about his confusion from when he was a child feeling extremely uncomfortable in his female body. This is written with such lucidity that one cannot help but wonder how much is fiction. The scene where the character gets his period is all-telling and so heartbreakingly sad. The child is devastated because, up until that moment, he held out hope that his true body as a male would surface. As his body conspires against him, his delighted mother says that her little girl is growing up. She tells the child that he is a woman now. To add to the child’s confusion, although he hates the feeling that his body is betraying him, he simultaneously loves the feeling of closeness that he is experiencing as his beloved mother braids his hair, sharing female pearls of wisdom now that he has a woman’s body. (When the girl grows to be the young man his mother is deceased but shows up as a ghost that he can see and talk to.  It reads more sweet than weird).  The author writes the child’s conflicting emotions so well that he makes you want to jump into the pages and give the child the word non-binary.  My maternal instincts had me crying for the boy.

Overall, I enjoyed the Syrian immigrant experience as observed in the novel.  As a native New Yorker, I loved the descriptions of Little Syria, which sounded like an Arab version of NYC’s Little Italy. I could have done without the birds, but then again I have never been a fan of magical realism. However, I did think it was clever of the author to make the trans man’s mother an ornithologist to keep the magic as believable as possible.  At times, there was just too much going on in the story to hold my interest. I found myself skimming to get back to the Syrian-American experience, but then again, historical fiction is my favorite genre.  There is no denying Joukhadar’s talent as an author.  The book could have easily been written as a boring teacher’s manual on all the themes in the novel that many of us do need to be educated on.  Instead, what you get is lyrical prose that is captivating as well as educational.  Still, for someone like myself who has trouble with mixed genre novels, the book wasn’t for me. Though, I feel confident that other readers and reviewers will consider it a story-telling feat.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“The Cold Millions” by Jess Walter

Genre: Historical FictionThe cold millions
Publisher: Harper/Collins
Pub. Date: Oct. 6, 2020

“Millions” is a richly entertaining historical novel that reconstructs the free speech riots that took place during the creation of the labor union during the early 1900s in Spokane, Washington. The novel is jam-packed with real-life people such as the passionate,19-year-old union organizer, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (known as the Rebel Girl), the young labor lawyer, Fred Moore, and many others. Historical fiction is my favorite genre because I must have been asleep in my school days. For me, there is nothing better than learning while being entertained. Did you know that back then, union activists were called Wobblys?  Dare I admit that I never heard of The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)?  Well, at least I did know who the union-busting Pinkertons were.

The story reads like a John Steinbeck novel with strong shades of “Grapes of Wrath” and a hint of “East of Eden.” We meet two colorful Irish American brothers at ages twenty-one and sixteen. Like many other Americans in those years, they were anxious to work, but there was no work to be found. (Think of the 1954 movie, “On The Waterfront.” A century later but the same situation, where a hundred men are hoping to be randomly picked for a job that needs only a handful of workers).  To eat, the brothers hop freight trains in search of employment.  Once the job is finished, they move on to wherever else they think they might find work, fair pay, and decent treatment. The boys are considered hobos and unwanted vagrants who sleep, with the other unemployed, shivering on the cold ground under the nighttime sky. The cops usually beat and chase them out of town.  The title of the book is referring to the millions who are poor and starving while the tycoons and the ungodly wealthy (in current days we refer to them as the 1% ) have no intention of sharing their wealth. There is a scene where the younger brother finds himself in the unusual position of being a guest in a millionaire’s house (spoiler: it is a set up). The boy cries seeing that such homes exist while he has no home at all.

Written in pristine prose, “Millions” features an unforgettable cast of Native Americans, recent immigrants, crooked cops—complete with a real-life shady police chief—tramps, suffragists, socialists, madams, and murderers. Not to mention, Ursula the Great, a fictional vaudeville singer who performs with a live cougar. The dashing older brother has an ongoing sexual relationship with Ursula the Great.  The shy younger brother has a crush on Elizabeth Gurley Flynn; told you that you would be entertained. At times, it can feel that the author has taken on too many isms, but it doesn’t detract from the story because all sorts of civil movements were going on in that period.  In reading this novel, you too will get lost in a fascinating tale and may learn a thing or two about the Rebel Girl and other rebel voices of this time in American History, which sounds eerily like the America we know today.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Ordinary Grace” by William Kent Krueger

Genre:  Literary Fiction /Murder MysteryOrdinary Grace
Publisher: Atria
Pub. Date:  Oct. 19, 2012

“The sky had changed.  The gray sky deepened to the color of charcoal and the clouds had begun to boil” is an example of the gorgeous prose in this gem of a novel.   “Ordinary Grace” is marketed as a murder mystery.  It reads much more like a touching coming-of-age story set in a small Minnesota town where a murder takes place.  The book was published in 2012. It later went on to win the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 2014.  I am not sure how I came across this novel but I am very glad that I did.  “Grace” sends readers back in time to 1961 when the Minnesota Twins were playing their debut season, JFK was the new young president and life in a small town included a soda fountain, barbershop, and church. In the prologue, you will learn “It was a summer in which death, in visitation, assumed many forms.  Accident.  Nature.  Suicide.  Murder.”  Rather than focusing on the whodunit, “Grace” tells the story of how the deaths affect the town’s residents.

Frank is the 13-year-old narrator.  He is a kid who has a tendency to get into trouble.  His voice is charming.  He describes his father as “a man with a son who stuttered and another probably on his way to becoming a juvenile delinquent.”  His father is the local Methodist minister.  Post-traumatic stress is delicately woven into the story.  Before his dad left for WWII, he was on his way to being a hotshot lawyer. His mother resents her husband’s change of career. She is not a believer in God, which makes for good tension in the plot.  His siblings are a Juilliard-bound teenage sister and his sweet younger brother who is bullied for having a stutter. There are pages filled with other colorful, nice and not-so-nice townspeople.  All are written with in-depth character development.  There are similarities to Stephen King’s novella, “The Body,” which later became the movie, “The Stand.”  “Grace” like “Body” is a dark read at times that can be heartbreaking but overall its message is optimistic.

Without being preachy (pun intended), the author managed to write a book filled with life lessons. At the end of the tale, Frank thinks, “Loss, once it’s become a certainty, is like a rock you hold in your hand. It has weight and dimension and texture. It’s solid and can be assessed and dealt with.”  Even though the family goes through terrible experiences, his brother says, “The miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day.”Simply said, “Grace” is a story of when bad things happen to good people and how they overcome their pain.  Krueger’s characters go through a wide range of believable and conflicting emotions.  You will laugh and cry along with them. The author’s skill in building tension, drama, and acceptance will leave the reader with a heartwarming glow.

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“City of Girls” by Elizabeth Gilbert

Genre:  General FictionCity of Girls
Publisher:  Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date:  April 7, 2020

A friend asked me if I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s third book, “City of Girls.”  I explained that I was the only woman I knew of that didn’t like “Eat, Pray, Love.”  She replied that “Girls” was a better book.  I had promised myself that I wouldn’t read another novel with the word “girl” in the title.  I am so glad that I broke my promise.  My friend was right.  The plot is funny yet also thought-provoking. The story begins in the present, when Vivian, the narrator, is 90 years old. In a letter, she tells her life story to Angela, the daughter of the only man she ever loved (and she had many). Think this is a romance novel? Think again.  Gilbert penned a broad, fun historical fiction of mid-20th-century New York that is jammed with rich characters. The author’s wit shines through the entire book. She starts her letter by telling Angela that she is an “ancient woman still tottering around New York City, absolutely refusing to abandon either her life or her real estate.”

Vivian recounts her life starting from 1940. The author nailed the essence of the 1940s screwball comedies. Think the movie, “Girl Friday” but with a sharp edge.  When our protagonist is nineteen, she flunks out of Vassar College. Her pretentious parents are mortified.  She goes to live in NYC with the black sheep of the family, her Aunt Peg. Peg owns an offbeat neighborhood playhouse, which runs on a threadbare budget. Here Gilbert creates such fun characters, all thrown at the reader at a fast-moving pace. In the upstairs of the playhouse lives the 19-year-old with her exuberant, hard drinking, Aunt Peg and Peg’s no-nonsense girlfriend.  Even though the couple has been together for over 20 years, Peg is still married to a famous Hollywood director who is a notorious—but oh so lovable—playboy.  Add in Peg’s longtime British friend who is a great stage actress. The actress is married to a much younger, not-so-smart, but movie-star handsome man. Last but not least are the sexually free-spirited showgirls. One of them is Vivian’s roommate.  Our nineteen-year-old jumps in headfirst into her new, wild lifestyle. The dialogue in this group is extra sharp “just because these were show-business people.” Yes, there is plenty of reckless sex, boozing and nightclubbing, along with a hilarious account of Vivian’s deflowering.  But this is historical fiction. You will also meet real-life characters from that time such as the theater critic Brooks Atkinson.  And Heywood Broun, the American journalist who founded the media union, “The Newspaper Guild.”  Other well researched, real-life persons have scenes in the book as well. My favorite is Walter Winchell, the newspaper gossip columnist. I need to google to learn if he really was as tawdry as portrayed in the novel.

At the age of twenty, Vivian made a major blunder that enraged the playhouse’s famous actress. A front-page racy photo of Vivian turns her into “A dirty little whore.” The author goes deep here showing female shame. Vivian was banished from her new home and place of work.  She was shipped back to her parents.  Now the novel takes on a different tone. In the second half of the book, Gilbert remains witty. Peg is now an old woman.  She tells her niece “The doctor says that there’s nothing much wrong with me, kiddo, but there is nothing much right with me either.” There is still good-humored banter going on, yet, the writing becomes more serious in this part of the story. When Vivian returns to NYC, she is older, wiser and calmer.  She is still promiscuous but no longer acting like a college girl gone wild. Now the character reads more like an independent-minded woman living her life on her own terms.  Gilbert makes sure the reader gets that her protagonist is decades ahead of her time and we cheer her on for it.  Vivian is simply a sensual person.

This is also when Vivian, and the reader, meet Frank, Angela’s father.  “And then there was Frank. He was a devout Catholic, a police officer, and a veteran who had been through hell in service to his country.  There was nothing of the sensualist about him.” Frank is a WWII vet with posttraumatic stress.  Now Gilbert’s writing captures male shame.  The author explores the notion that it could be every bit as painful as female shame.  Vivian asks him, “for the sake of argument, what if it’s true Frank that you were never made for combat?”  He replies, “It means I’m a coward…a failure…a bad person.”  Vivian becomes angry.  “Now you listen to me Frank Grecco…do you think my aunt is a bad person because she has no control over booze?…do you think I am a failure because I am not pure…Of course you don’t…you’re a wonderful person…you’re no failure.”  This is not your average women’s fiction. Men may enjoy the novel too.  Gilbert proves that she is a powerful storyteller. She writes a sassy tale with non-judgmental, poignant life lessons. She may give you the courage to emulate Vivian’s letter and fearlessly examine your own life.

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“Wolf: A Novel” by Herbert J. Stern, Alan A. Winter

Gene: Historical FictionWolf
Publisher: Skyhorse
Pub. Date: Feb. 11, 2020

The Director of Publicity for “Wolf: A Novel” contacted me to ask if I would be interested in an Advance Review Copy (ARC) of this historical fiction. I was about to say thanks but no thanks (already have too many on my TBR list) until I learned who the authors were—more to come on them later. I am so glad that I accepted the book and grateful that it was offered to me.  Wolf is a meticulously researched historical novel about a man who isn’t yet the monster that he will become later in life, a man who is the embodiment of evil known as Adolf Hitler.  I was amazed at how much I learned about Hitler in this book.  Did you know that Wolf was his nickname?  Did you know that in 1918 he was in a soldiers’ mental health hospital for hysterical blindness?  Or that as a corporal Hitler was denied a promotion for lack of leadership ability?  And most surprisingly, this most hated man was also known s to be a ladies’ man?  I kid you not. Throughout his career, he paid off women to squash the potential sex scandals.

“Wolf” is the story of Hitler’s life immediately following WWI. If you ever wondered how the Nazis took control, you won’t after reading this book.  They did not seize the country.  It was a slow political movement made possible due to all the fighting amongst the country’s political parties striving to obtain power. I was so fascinated by this systematic explanation, like chess pieces on a board, that I actually typed it all up.  Then remembered I was writing a book review, not a history paper.  The authors make it look easy to weave together fact and fiction. In between reading about the rise of real-life monsters such as Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, and Reinhard Heydrich, there is also the book’s fictional protagonist and narrator, Friedrich Richard. Through this character, you will find yourself in nightclubs with movie stars as well as prostitutes in brothels. Moreover, you get a front row seat to Germany’s then-bohemian life style.  All sorts of unconventional shenanigans became acceptable.  Think the 1970s movie “Cabaret.”

The book’s co-authors are Herbert J. Stern and Alan A. Winter. Stern is a former US attorney for the District of New Jersey.  He also served as a judge of the US Court of Berlin. He authored the non-fiction book, “Judgment in Berlin.”  Winter graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in History and has graduate degrees from New York University and Colombia University. He is the author of four novels. One was a “Kirkus Selected Best Book.”  The newsletter “The Jewish Voice,” wrote that this novel “debunks the myths surrounding the life of Adolf Hitler.”  One learns that he was capable of loving and maintaining friendships. I know, very hard to believe but it’s footnoted.   Friedrich meets Hitler when they are in the same hospital in 1918.  He is there because he is suffering from a war-related brain injury that left him with impaired memory. They become good friends.  I thought it was ingenious how the authors created a protagonist with amnesia.  As they say in the endnotes, “He is a clear window through which we observed people and events.”

Though the narrator’s eyes the plot simply hits me in my American gut.  One of the many examples is when Hitler began his sterilization programs in an attempt to prevent persons deemed to possess undesirable heritable characteristics. Friedrich questions the reasoning behind needing an Aryan race.  It is explained to him that they took the idea from America’s broadly accepted law that “One-Drop” of black blood in a white person is enough to consider that person to be black.  “They enforce purity and superiority of Anglo-Saxon blood. Their goal is to protect the integrity of anything that threatens American heritage.” Because our protagonist’s memory is a blank slate, it suddenly seems understandable to him.  Another heartbreaking example is when reading that in the early years of the Nazi party, the wealthy Jews donated to Hitler. They considered themselves loyal Germans who wanted the best for their country. Again, since Friedrich has no past knowledge, he naively agrees with them.

Historical fiction is my favorite genre, so I read many. A complaint I have is that it has become a trend to compare German Fascism to the current White House Administration. They are usually written so loud that it gives me a headache and bores me to tears. “Wolf” is over 500 pages long.  The chapters are divided by months and years in chronological order.  By the time you finish the novel, the comparison becomes inevitable, but you need to piece them together over the years.  It is not spoon-fed to you.  Now, I am not saying that President Trump is Hitler-like.  I am saying that the book helps one understand the comparisons.  Germany had a perfect political storm that allowed evil to flourish.

The book’s last paragraphs take place in1934.  The German President Hindenburg dies. “The next morning a law was passed that combined the offices of president and chancellor.” Hitler fools the Germans into believing that this is out of respect for the deceased President. In reality, dictatorship is his goal.  Then Hitler calls for his Generals to swear before God their unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, Fuhrer of the Reich. “These few words—and what they represented—sealed the fate of Germany.”  Before Hitler, “the armed forces swore their allegiance to protect the country.”  “Wolf” only has six fictional characters, including the protagonist. The rest is pure history. Yet, the tale reads like a page-turning thriller. I do wish that the authors had explained in more detail why a dark haired Austrian man was so intent on creating a blond-haired, blue-eyed German nation (something about his troubled childhood); Still, I just gobbled this one up.  This educational read is easy to follow. Although it is an adult historical fiction, young adults would learn much while getting lost in the tale’s drama. If “Wolf” ever shows up on a syllabus in a high school history class, I would be surprised if kids cut the class.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review
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“More Miracle Than Bird” by Alice Miller

Genre:  Historical FictionMore Mircle Than Bird
Publisher:  Tin House Books
Pub. Date: June 2, 2020

This book’s unusual title is from a line in the poem, “Sailing to Byzantium,” by William Butler Yeats. The novel’s setting is in England on the eve of WWI. The book is marketed for fans (and I am one) of Paula McLain’s female fictional memoir, “The Paris Wife.” I have enjoyed other novels written in this manner, such as “The Aviator’s Wife” by Melanie Benjamin. In both novels, the author blurs the line between a biography and fiction, focusing on the wives of the famous men they married. The catch is that the reader gets to learn about the famous men through the eyes of the forgotten women. “Miracle” is another novel reimagining a romantic relationship through the wife’s eyes. This time between Georgie Hyde-Lees who was married to the great Irish poet, W.B. Yeats. As it says in the prologue, written by biographer, Richard Ellmann, “Had Yeats died instead of marrying, he would have been remembered as a remarkable minor poet…who except in a handful of poems, did not have much to say.” We get it, ‘behind every great man…’—yada-yada.

What makes this one different and a bit odd is that the midlife poet introduces the much younger 21-year-old Hyde-Lees to a mysterious occult that is obsessed with the afterlife. ‘The Order’ is the name of the secret society. (I googled; it’s all true). Fortune tellers, séances and the weirdly hooded, robe-wearing Order members are a large chunk of the plot. I was not expecting hocus pocus in this book. It totally took me by surprise, leaving me with mixed feelings. I enjoyed learning how eccentric Yeats was, but I was not interested in the couple’s occult shenanigans. However, the author does a good job of keeping the pace racing. At one point, Georgie finds herself in a closed coffin as part of an initiation.

Miller has a nice dichotomy going on. By day, Georgie is working in a hospital for injured soldiers, one of whom is smitten with her (not sure if the soldier is real or fictional), and by night, she is with her poet, his famous pals not to mention attending occult meetings. The love affair and marriage are a bit duller than found in “The Aviator’s” and “The Paris,” probably because the author paints W.B. as not as taken with his wife as she is with him. His big love affair that went on for decades was with a married woman pre-Georgie (I googled. Again, true). This is a well-researched and interesting tale. This reviewer never knew how much she didn’t know about the acclaimed poet. Although I would have enjoyed reading a bit more about the British royal family before the war, I still found “Miracle” an interesting read written in compelling prose.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review
.
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