A recommended historical novel that almost perfectly captures its time and place.

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COMPROMISE WITH SIN

A historical novel about one woman’s troubled life in Nebraska in the early years of the 20th century.

After escaping a miserable childhood, Louise Morrissey yearns for and works hard at living a respectable life in Riverbend, Nebraska. But that life is seriously compromised by her extramarital affair with Dr. Benjamin Dewitt Foster. Their child, Marie Alouette, is born blind because of Foster’s gonorrhea, which infected Louise and resulted in the all-too-common ophthalmia neonatorum, known as “babies’ sore eyes.” Louise’s husband, Frank, is impotent, but she convinces him that he impregnated her during a bout of blackout drunkenness, setting the stage for decades of deception. Frank turns out to be a loving parent and Marie, a heroically cheerful little girl. Her father gets her on the Chautauqua lecture circuit as a child elocutionist, and she becomes a big hit. While on tour, a friend tells Frank that he’s likely not Marie’s father. In a drunken rage, Frank races home to confront Louise and the man that he wrongly suspects her of sleeping with, Yonder LaFontaine. Following a tragedy, the story shifts as Louise begins to lobby for laws mandating that newborns be immediately treated to prevent needless blindness. It’s hard, uphill work, and a contrite Foster becomes her ally. Through Chautauqua, she comes to know the famous Helen Keller, who pitches in for the cause. Englert’s novel intriguingly mixes fiction and real-life history. Along the way, the author highlights how guilt becomes both a gall and a goad for Louise; in a final cleansing, confessional speech, for example, she admits that Marie was the victim of Louise’s gonorrheal infection. Englert also effectively uses the idea of blindness literally and figuratively, showing how Victorian mores rule in Riverbend. Louise is even hectored for using the dreaded word “gonorrhea” during her lobbying effort, and the Ladies’ Home Journal loses subscribers in droves after running articles that warn of sexually transmitted diseases. The story also points out the society’s ugly, nativist bigotry, which claimed that only immigrants spread such infections.

A recommended historical novel that almost perfectly captures its time and place. 

Pub Date: June 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-938749-36-0

Page Count: 414

Publisher: Enchanted Indie Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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