“The Circus Train” by Amita Parikh

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s SonsThe Circus Train
Pub. Date: December 6, 2022

As an infant, our heroine suffered from  Polio. We watch her fight to live a normal life. Well, as normal as can be for someone who grows up in a traveling circus. The blurb states that “The Circus Train” is a cross between “The Night Circus” and “Water for Elephants.” I enjoyed both of those books as I did “Train.” However, “Train” was more entertainment than historical fiction. The writing was lacking in comparison to the other two novels. Still, I did enjoy being entertained. It may not read believable but the magic, mystery, and love story in Nazi-occupied Europe kept my interest.

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

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“Eagle & Crane” by Suzanne Rindell

Genre:         Historical FictionEagle & Crane
Publisher:   Penguin Group Putnam 
Pub. Date:   July 3, 2018

On the first page of this historical fiction is an old black and white picture of a handsome young man with laughter in his eyes and a cocky grin on his face.  He is standing in front of a biplane – a small plane for two, with an open cockpit.  Over the picture, it reads, “In memory of my grandfather, Norbert.”  The image and words left me with a feeling that I would enjoy this novel, which I did.

The characters include two friendly but highly competitive male teens living on their farms in California during the 1930s to the 1940s.   Both are the sons of farmers who have been feuding for years.  One of the boys is shy despite a handsome, all American face.  The other boy is also handsome.   His face displays his Japanese American features.  This teen’s nature is much more outgoing than his friend’s, but because we are in the years prior to and during WWII, he hides his true personality, emulating humility to stay out of harm’s way.  We also meet a young teenage girl, her mother, and her con artist stepfather who makes a living by selling snake oil.   He usually gambles away what little money they have.  But, one time he is lucky and wins two biplanes.  Eventually, they all meet, and so begins the story of their traveling flying circus, known as barnstorming.    The conman gathers the crowds with their act, which consists of two biplanes, two stunt pilots, and two wing walkers.  They make their money by selling tickets to the crowds for biplane rides.  This is all illegal, but lots of fun.  In case you haven’t guessed, the boys are the wing walkers and they both fall for the girl.

The young love triangle is written sweetly. The description of farming during the depression and life during WWII is spot-on.   But, what I really enjoyed is learning how the early Japanese found their way into the United States.  This book didn’t concentrate on the Japanese railroad workers but rather on the Japanese farm workers.  I was completely ignorant that in the 1880s Japanese immigrants first came to the Pacific Northwest to farm.  They traveled throughout the States buying land.  Many became very successful farmers.   Sadly, these farmers lost everything when the war led to the internment of Japanese Americans.  Not a proud moment in our history.  I found this beautiful sad poem that I encourage you to read.  “Japanese-American Farmhouse, California, 1942” by Sharon Olds:   https://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/sharon-olds/japanese-american-farmhouse-california-1942/.

There is also a mystery in this story, which I didn’t think enhanced the novel at all. Rather, the extra plot detracts from it, causing the tale to be too long.   In 1943, an FBI agent comes looking for the Japanese teen and his family.   (Eerily similar to today’s unfair treatment of immigrants coming to the US.)  While there, he witnesses a biplane crash.  The passengers are burned to death and not recognizable.  The pilot and the passenger are assumed to be the Japanese father and son.   Now, the agent’s job is to investigate the crash.  I felt as though this added plot is to ensure a bestseller.  The author would have been better off deciding to write one or the other, a mystery or a historical fiction.  But it wasn’t enough to stop me from enjoying the novel overall.

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

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“Love and Ruin” by Paula McLain

Genre:           Biographical Historical Fiction    Love and Ruin
Publisher:    Random House
Pub. Date:    May 1, 2018

The author, Paula McLain, has made a career writing historical fiction memoirs.  Her most popular novel, “The Paris Wife” is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage to Hadley Richardson.   Hadley is Ernest’s starter wife.  He had four wives by the time of his death.  While married to Richardson, Hemingway wrote, “A Moveable Feast,” his classic memoir of Paris in the 1920s.  In McLain’s next novel, “Circling the Sun,” she writes in the voice of Beryl Markham, a British-born Kenyan aviator who became the first woman to fly solo, nonstop across the Atlantic.   In “Love and Ruin,” McLain once again comes back to Hemingway.   This time, the narrator is his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, known as Marty.  As in her other books, it is clear that the author did her homework by researching previously published biographical material on her heroines.

“Love and Ruin” are words that seem to be twin preoccupations in life and literature.  It may not be as catchy, but if this book was titled “Love, War and Loss,” the reader would know exactly what they were about to dive into, because the story is about the carnage of war and the ruin of a painful marriage.  Marty Gellhorn is considered one of the most important war correspondents of the 20th century.  She meets Hemingway in late 1936, in the now infamous “Sloppy Joe’s Bar,located in Key West, Florida.  The bar was a favorite watering hole for the writer.  (I’m proud to say I had a drink there).   He invites Marty, and her mother, to his Key West house, where he lived with his 2nd wife and two sons.  He had another son from his first marriage.  (Since I visited the house, which is now a museum, I can assure you that all details are accurate, right down to his wall art. which are movie posters of his books that became films).  When Marty hears his plans to travel to Spain as a war correspondent covering the takeover of Spain by Franco, she decides to meet him there.  It is during this journey that she discovers her love of adventure.  It is also here that the couple’s love affair begins.  Hemingway’s experiences in Spain were his inspiration for his book, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” which he wrote in their home in Cuba.  I wonder if he needed a woman in his life to write his most famous novels.

Ernest Hemingway truly was a larger-than-life individual.  He was also a misogynist alcoholic.   His career hit an all time high with “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” while Marty, also a writer of novels, only received notice as Hemingway’s wife.  Ernest’s “Bell Tolls” became a movie and they went to Hollywood, California to be on the set.  She hated everything about Hollywood.   But Earnest was in his glory with all the attention and becoming buddies with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman.  She believed that in order for her to breathe, she needed to get away from Ernest’s needy ego.  This was the beginning of the end of their marriage.  Determined not to live in the shadow of her famous husband, she accepted dangerous war journalist assignments overseas.  Realizing her true passion comes from on-the-ground reporting.   She decides to cover D-Day by stowing away on the first hospital ship to land at Normandy, wading ashore to become the first journalist, male or female, to make it there and report back.  I found her to be a brave and amazing woman.  Unfortunately, her husband saw her leaving not as a work assignment, but as her leaving the marriage.  He started the divorce process.  You have to love Marty, even though he filed the papers, she was his only wife to leave him.  She was heartbroken to read in the newspaper that he already had another woman living with him in their Cuban home.  It is hard to like Hemingway, but through Marty’s voice, the author does a great job of describing his deep depressive episodes.  For anyone who knew the man, his suicide was not a surprise.  Even after their divorce, Marty still worried about her self-destructive ex.  As the reader, I wondered if Hemingway would have had a better life if he hadn’t become so famous.

Reading Marty’s first-hand view of war was engaging as well as traumatic.  I very much enjoyed the history lesson through the heroine’s thoughts.  But, I also felt her feelings on the horrors she witnessed in war, which could be tough.  Maybe, this is why I so enjoy historical fiction memoirs.  You feel like you are getting inside the head of the narrator, and McLain does this genre extraordinarily well.  I should mention that the author has lived an interesting life.  She wrote her own memoir, “Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses.”  McLain’s parents abandoned their children.  She and her two sisters grew up in foster care homes.  Even if you do not care for fictional memoirs; I strongly recommend that you give the well written “Love and Ruin” a try.  It has a something for everyone, no matter your favorite genre.

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

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Twitter: Martie’s Book Reviews: https://twitter.com/NeesRecord