The Home For Unwanted Girls: A Conversation

The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman is a story about a young, unwed mother forced to give up her child. Loosely based on real life events, the book is set in Quebec during the 1950’s under the leadership of Maurice Duplessis.

The Home for Unwanted Girls is this year’s One Book, One Community selection. Bloggers Nancy, Lesley and Penny M. sat down to discuss the book:

What was your initial reaction to the book?

Nancy: I finished the book with a sense of despair and anger. Here is another example of the abuse of power that was and continues to be rampant in our world.

Lesley: I had feelings of outrage and at the same time optimism. The book covers a lot of unpleasant truths about the treatment of women and orphans in Canada, but overall it gave me hope. As a society we have come a long way from the days of asylums and terms like ‘unwed mothers’ and still continue strive for empowerment.

Penny M: I wouldn’t have chosen to read Joanna Goodman’s book if it hadn’t been this year’s OBOC pick (which is exactly what the program is meant to do – push us to read books outside what we would normally be drawn to) so I was thrilled to find that it was book that kept me interested to the end.

How would you describe the overall theme of the book?

Nancy: The underlying theme of this book was the reflection at all levels of how power corrupts and how insidiously entrenched in our societal mores the imbalance of power is. The chasms that exist between the rich and poor, the governed and the governors and the patriarchal church leadership and the masses, reflect the struggles for those who are forced to live their lives under that arbitrary inequality.

Lesley: I would say that there are many themes in the book – motherhood, women’s rights, abuse and corruption. But to me the main theme is resilience. Both characters (Maggie and Elodie) experience abuse but ultimately have the strength to form their own lives.

Penny M: It’s hard not to see this book as one that explores the abuse of power and the way that children and women were not given a voice but overall I think the author is talking about family.   Joanna Goodman writes in the author’s notes that she based some of the novel on her own family’s story so it feels like she wants to celebrate the way that family can triumph over a system designed to keep them apart.

What was your initial impression of the main character Maggie? Did your perception of her change during the story?

Nancy: I liked her strength and her spirit. She was caught between wanting to live a life different than her mother’s but also her fierce loyalty and love for her father. As the story unfolded, I saw her as a woman who was trying to break free from the societal chains that have always attempted to keep women from recognizing their power. Ironically, she was able to start coming into her own when she was finally able to reignite and solidify her relationship with Gabriel.

Lesley: I also saw her as a young woman who wanted more than the average life of a woman in that time period. She didn’t want to be defined by society’s rules, which was a very difficult thing to do. As the story went on Maggie definitely formed her own unique identity.

Penny M: As the scaffolding of Maggie’s story is known to the reader it seemed a little harder to feel invested in her.  I wasn’t as interested in her until she became an adult and began her life as a married woman because there was a little more to wonder about.  When she left the town where she grew up and started to think for herself she became more interesting and I enjoyed her character more.

What do you think draws Maggie to her first love Gabriel? Do you think they have a healthy relationship?

Nancy: Maggie was attracted to Gabriel for the same reasons that most teenagers fall in love… sexual attraction. But their worlds were so different and infused with the prejudices that were rampant during that time. So while they had a strong physicalconnection, their emotional bond was bound to be fraught with dissonance. As they matured, they were able to overcome the chains that had previously bound them and found solace and safety in each other’s lived experience.

Lesley: I saw their relationship very differently. I saw her seeking out Gabriel as part of a negative pattern. She witnessed her father treat her mother poorly, so on some level she also picked a man who didn’t treat her well.

Penny M: Maggie and Gabriel fall in love when they are both young and she could be making some of her romantic decisions based more on rebelling against her parents than anything else.  Their early conversations about their future are filled with optimism and it’s hard to be sure what might have happened in their relationship if her family hadn’t made the decisions for her.  Their differences in personality could have given them balance and guided them through the hardships they would have faced with a child so early in their lives.

In the book Maggie’s daughter Elodie is sent to an orphanage and later declared mentally ill. During the 1950‘s, orphanages in Quebec were reclassified as mental institutions in order to receive more funding from the government. Where you previously aware of this scheme? What was your response?

Nancy: I wasn’t aware of this act in particular but it is reflective of the historic and on-going abuse of power perpetrated on the masses. Whether we are talking about the residential schools, the Japanese internment camps, the destitution of the working poor or the muzzling of women’s voices, the end result is the same… power and greed win out over fairness and acceptance.

Lesley: I was completely unaware of this event. I never learned about it at school or heard it mentioned on the news. I was completely outraged when I read about it and even more outraged at the fact that it seems to have been quietly buried from Canadian history.

Penny M: I don’t have a memory of reading anything about the Quebec government making these decisions but the idea that a government institution would make conscious decisions that harm the people they are meant to care for while benefitting themselves isn’t surprising to me at all.  And, it is horrible to realize.  I recently read Shelley Wood’s The Quintland Sisters and this novel also explores the role of government in caring for (and possibly exploiting) children and the parallels between the two books are so very interesting.

What role did the nuns who ran the institution play in shaping Elodie’s character?

Nancy: I can’t fathom how the nuns, who were supposedly agents of a loving God, could treat other human beings, especially children, in such a horrific manner. They broke Elodie for the most part but a glimmer of her strength flickered and was able to come to life with the support of those who surrounded her with unconditional love.

Lesley: Some of the nuns were kind to Elodie and some were hideously abusive. Interestingly enough, the nuns that were kind to orphans were punished for it. The abuse is certainly something Elodie carries with her throughout her story and does affect her own view of motherhood.

Penny M: When Elodie was a young orphan she was educated and cared for by the nuns.  Some were benevolent and affectionate and she remembered this nurturing presence throughout her life.  Unfortunately, after the decision was made to transfer orphans to the mental institutions, she was no longer cared for by nuns with the same level of concern for her health and on more than occasion they were deliberately cruel.  Fortunately she was able to maintain some hold on the core good nature she formed in her early years during that horrifying period.

Which part of the book made the largest impression on you?

Nancy: The impact that religious tenets have had in shaping the belief systems that guide society. The belief that unmarried pregnant girls were sinners and deserved to be punished was/is absurd. No girl ever got pregnant alone but they were the ones to bear the onus and the shame. The church has had a devastating impact on women and there is still huge resistance to breaking those chains.

Lesley: For me, the largest impression was the extent of the abuse of the orphans that was province-wide that went on for so long. It only ended after Premier Duplessis died. No one seemed to speak out against it and there really was never any ownership of that abuse.

Penny M: The part of the book that dealt with Elodie’s adult life will always resonate for me – she is further trapped by being a young woman alone in the world just as she finds herself free of the asylum – it seemed heartbreaking after all she had suffered but she doesn’t give up.  I most enjoyed the moments in her first workplace outside of the asylum, made friends and share her personality with customers.  It seemed like the spark that we first saw in the little girl was returning again in a small way there.

To whom would you recommend this book?

Nancy: This would be a great book club choice. It’s not that riveting as far as the writing goes, but the story and the message would encourage much discussion.

Lesley: I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys character driven novels. It is definitely a ‘thinking’ book that has a lot of emotional subject matter. I would encourage anyone who reads it to go and learn more about “Duplessis Orphans.”

Penny M: The book has a storyline that compels you to keep reading so it would appeal to every reader.  I think that it would be enjoyed by readers of any gender as there are multiple characters to identify with (or dislike so, so much).  The romance between Maggie and Gabriel isn’t so overwhelming that it would scare anyone away and I loved the way that the author wove in elements like the seed store, Maggie’s married life and Gabriel’s struggling farm to make the novel complete.  You come away from this it feeling as if you have enjoyed a solidly researched historical novel.  It is a very satisfying read.

 

 

Wunderland

Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein is a historical fiction page-turner that brings readers into the lives of two teenage friends, Ilse and Renate, who have vastly different perspectives and experiences during World War II.

The story begins in 1989, shortly after Ilse’s death, when her daughter, Ava unearths Ilse’s long-held secrets. The story then heads back in time, to Berlin in the late 1930’s when Ilse and her best friend Renate are teenagers. It’s through the bond of these two young women that we get varying views of the war and witness the disintegration of their friendship and the reasons for it.

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What made this book stand out from the many, MANY WWII historical fiction books I’ve read, is how Epstein vividly describes what life was like for German citizens leading up to and including WWII. She describes the rise of the Nazi regime and their horrific methods of growing their power and shows how some German citizens began to believe the propaganda and felt justified when they participated in fear mongering and terror of their own neighbours. She also reveals the dire restrictions, discrimination and abuse Jewish families faced from their own government as well as the pitiful aid from other countries as they tried to flee.

While there’s a fair bit of jumping back and forth between time lines (and one that I was less invested in), in the end, Wunderland is an engaging read with story lines that merge into an incredibly revealing look at the rise of Nazism within Germany. But ultimately, the focus on the poignant, heart-wrenching tale about a complicated friendship, long-held secrets, loss and betrayal is what will keep readers glued to the pages.

— Laurie P.

The Defiant

Rarely will I ever read a book series out of order. Reading a series out of order can be a recipe for disaster. You risk the plot not making sense. You risk missing key character points. And truthfully, you’re losing the overall effect of the author’s storytelling. But every so often I will come across a book that is so interesting that I fall to the temptation of starting a series in the middle. The Defiant just had too many of my interests to pass up. It’s historical fiction, it takes place in ancient Rome and it has strong female characters that kick butt and take names. And it’s written by Lesley Livingston, who wrote The Wondrous Strange series which I adored. I was so thrilled when I saw it; I dove right in without reading the first book.

Set in ancient Rome during the reign of Julius Caesar, The Defiant tells the story of Fallon, the daughter of a Celtic King.  Her homeland was attacked by Roman forces and she was taken captive. Sold as a slave to a ludus (a gladiator academy) she now fights as a gladiatrix named “Victrix.” Over time she wins the love of the crowd but earns the ire of those she has defeated. She finds herself in a violent feud with a rival ludus and one night her academy falls under attack. Fallon and the other gladiatrices escape, however their survival as fugitives is uncertain.

Although there are records of female gladiators during Roman times, very little is known about them. Male gladiators were depicted in artwork all across the Empire, while only one example of female gladiators exists. Nothing is known about their training or fighting styles. This leaves the narration of their story wide open. Author Lesley Livingston makes good use of this creative freedom. Fallon’s fighting style is so formidable, I found myself silently cheering her on as I read.  There is a tight comradery between Fallon and her fellow warriors that isn’t common to read. Most often stories will pit woman against woman in a rivalry for success. In this story, these gladiatrices will gladly die for one another.

The Defiant may be the second book in the series but I didn’t find myself lost or confused. The back story was blended into the plot so well that I could navigate the story without missing anything. As soon as I finished the book, I put a copy of The Valiant (book #1) on hold, only to discover that there is third book (The Triumphant) in the series set to be released this spring.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction, action based stories, ancient Rome or women who kick butt.

— Lesley L.

 

The Widows

I have to admit at the outset that I struggled a bit to get into The Widows by Jess Montgomery. I don’t know if it was the book or just my attitude at the time but I came very close to bailing. However, I am glad that I didn’t as I became quite engaged with the story and the strong female characters within.

Based in 1924 Ohio coal-mining country, this is the story of two women, both young widows, who overcome the powerful grip of grief and pain to stand strong for what they believe in. Lily Ross’s husband, Sheriff Daniel Ross, had been murdered and pregnant Lily is asked to replace him as Sheriff until elections can be held to fill the role ‘properly’. Marvena Whitcomb, Daniel’s best friend, (unbeknownst to Lily) is in the throes of grieving for her own husband who was killed in an explosion at Ross Mining Company’s Mine No 9, also known as “The Widowmaker”.

Two prominent themes, still evident today, thread through this story. Both Lily and Marvena are powerfully courageous women butting up against a male-dominant societal norm that is eager to suppress and negate them.

In a town where corporate greed has been responsible for the killing and maiming of many of the town’s miners, organizing for unionization puts Marvena directly in the sights of the ruthless mine owner, Luther Ross. He will stop at nothing to suppress calls for improved conditions at his mine.

Lily too meets powerful resistance as she tries to uncover the truth about her husband’s murder. In a town where trusting someone can be a fatal mistake, these two women must find the courage to overcome their fear and join forces to uncover the truth that will set them and their community free.

All of the female characters in this story demonstrate an iron rod of internal strength and commitment to caring and nurturing their families and their community.

In the author’s notes, Jess Montgomery talks about learning that in 1925, in Vinton County Ohio, a woman by the name of Maude Collins was elected Sheriff after filling the post temporarily upon the unexpected death of her husband, Fletcher Collins. She went on to have a long career in law enforcement.

Technically, The Widows is at times well-written and then, variously choppy. I struggled off and on to keep characters straight but the underlying story was strong and some of Montgomery’s descriptions of the countryside landscapes were just gorgeous. So, I would rate The Widows 3*** for writing but 4**** for the story and the character development.

— Nancy C.

The Girl They Left Behind

I’m an avid reader who reads many different genres but historical fiction is the one genre that I regularly gravitate towards. When you read a lot of one genre, you sometimes feel like you’ve read it all. The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos brings something new to this very popular genre with an engaging, informative and heart-felt story based on her mother’s early life during WWII and later during the Soviet occupation of Romania.

During the horrors of the 1941 Pogrom in Bucharest, Veletzos’ grandparents made the difficult choice to leave their three-year-old daughter, Natalia, on the steps of a building hoping to give her a chance to survive. Sent to an orphanage, she was quickly adopted by a wealthy couple who were devoted to her and gave her life of privilege.

Veletzos follows her mother’s early life and also provides vivid descriptions of Bucharest during WWII and afterwards when the Soviets took control, a time when life for many Romanians continued to be fraught with uncertainty and danger – especially those who didn’t support the Communist regime. She includes the lesser known history of Romania during these times and blends her personal family history into a riveting, fictional read. This is a captivating, sometimes heart-wrenching story about family bonds, resilience and hope.

I highly recommend The Girl They Left Behind to fans of historical fiction who enjoy getting a different perspective in the popular WWII historical fiction genre and especially for those of us who think they’ve ‘read it all’. Veletzos may just surprise you.

— Laurie P.

The Long Night is upon fans of Game of Thrones

It’s going to be a very long wait for Game of Thrones fans. Recently, it was announced that the final season will not be released until spring of 2019. Will Bran reveal what he knows about Rhaegar? Will Jon Snow defeat the Night King? Will the Long Night end? Who will sit on the Iron Throne if the battle is won?

Fortunately, there are some fantastic television series DVDs in our collection to help you get through the Long Night.

Vikings

There are only two things that matter to the Vikings: destiny and war. And the only way for a Viking to achieve his destiny was to be victorious in war. Vikings follows the story of the legendary Norse hero, Ragnar Lothbrok. Ragnar is an ambitious and methodical warrior who is a descendant of the god Odin. Eager to achieve what no other Viking has done, he eventually he leads an army to the shores of England to raid the Saxon villages.

Axes and shields may dominate the screen but at its core Vikings is about politics. Ragnar is a calculating leader who plays the long con, often outsmarting his opponents through strategy rather than blood. Women also play a strong role in the show. Lagertha (Ragnar’s wife) is a shield maiden with a reputation for courage and wit all her own. When it comes to fantasy, Vikings goes light on the supernatural elements. A raven may appear to give the idea that Odin is watching, but the fantasy symbols are few and only serve to reflect the belief system of the time.

Vikings combines action with intrigue and is my go-to series between seasons of Game of Thrones. Season Five, Part I of Vikings will be release in April 2018.

The Last Kingdom – (based on Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Series)

The Last Kingdom shares the same timeline as Vikings but the story is told from the point-of- view of the Saxons.  What we know as modern day England is broken up into seven separate kingdoms. Six of the seven kingdoms are ruled by Danes (Vikings). For decades, the Danes have attacked and plundered Saxon lands and now only Wessex remains free. The show follows Uhtred, the young heir to Bebbanburg. His family is murdered by ruthless Danes and he is taken as a slave. Overtime, he is sold to a Danish Earl who treats him as a son rather than a captive. Uhtred grows to be a man of two worlds – born a Saxon but raised in the brutal traditions of the Danes. His adoptive father is murdered in the first episode and his quest for retribution sets the tone for the remainder of the show.

The Last Kingdom is a fast paced, plot-driven series that is quick to watch – the first season only has eight episodes. It’s a good choice for those who don’t want to commit to hours of television watching.

Spartacus

A Thracian soldier is captured and enslaved by the Romans. Forced to fight as a gladiator for Roman entertainment, Spartacus conspires to overthrow his masters. His path to freedom is bloody and full of vengeance.

This is not a show for the faint of heart. There is a lot of action and violence, true to the nature of historical gladiator fighting. The cast is incredibly talented. You can’t help but love the villainous husband and wife who run the gladiator school. Played by John Hannah and Lucy Lawless respectively, they are comparable to the Macbeths – always plotting to rise above their station. The costume and set design is equally impressive. There is a great attention to detail placed on replicating the style of the Roman time period. It is done on a scale that is usually reserved for big budget Hollywood movies.

Spartacus is a wild ride – it is incredibly fast paced with a scandalously shocking storyline. It is one of my guilty pleasures.

Reign

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, was only six days old when she ascended to the throne. Viewed as a threat to the English crown, she was sent to France for her protection. The show begins with Mary’s betrothal to Dauphin of France and follows her rise to power until her execution in England.

Reign takes a lot of liberties with history, which makes the story hard to predict. The Mary we see on the show is much more scandalous than the Mary we read about in our history books.   The costumes, accessories and music of the show are designed in modern style, giving it a Gossip Girl type of appeal. While not a true fantasy show, there are elements of the supernatural on the fringes of the storyline – just enough to add a twist to the plot and keep the audience guessing how the story will unfold.

Reign is a plot-based show, rich with intrigue and conspiracy. The main character, Mary, is a relatable girl that you will root for even when you already know her fate.

-Lesley L.

Can’t Get Enough of Outlander

Have you ever read a series of books that combine history, political intrigue, battles and war, adventure, time travel, and the supernatural with a love story so captivating it has generated millions of fans around the entire world? Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books do just that.

Outlander, the first book in the series, was originally published in 1990. The story begins in 1945 when Claire Beauchamp and her husband, Frank Randall, are on a second honeymoon in Scotland. They are hoping to re-connect after serving separately in WWII.

Alone on a ramble in the countryside, Claire is drawn to an ancient circle of standing stones. She accidentally walks through a magical portal and finds herself in the war-torn Scotland of 1743. Due to her appearance and English accent, she is considered a spy by Redcoat Captain “Black Jack” Randall (no the last name is NOT a coincidence!). Only Jamie Fraser, a tall, red-headed, strong-willed Scottish Highlander, can save Claire from danger.

Claire soon becomes torn between the two very different men (husband, Frank, and Highlander, Jamie) in her two separate worlds.

The remaining books in the series, which should definitely be read in order, are:

  • Dragonfly in Amber
  • Voyager
  • Drums of Autumn
  • The Fiery Cross
  • A Breath of Snow and Ashes
  • An Echo in the Bone
  • Written in My Own Heart’s Blood

66a08d71d8a20de6e487672119ec0226Diana Gabaldon is currently working on the ninth book, Go Tell the Bees I Am Gone. Gabaldon does an incredible amount of research and puts great historic detail into her books, so there is usually a span of a few years between each publication.

When I first learned that Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books were going to be made into a television series, I was very skeptical that the screen version would live up to the images of Jamie and Claire that have been entrenched in my mind for so many years. However, I was very pleasantly surprised!

Season 1 and 2 successfully capture the important people, places, and events of the first two books, and it has been thrilling to see all these things come to life in vivid colour and detail. The screen version seems to be just as popular as the book series. Rotten Tomatoes has given Season 1 a score of 91%, with an audience rating of 94%. It also set a Rating Record for Multi-Platform Viewing. Season 1 (which is divided into Volume 1 and Volume 2) and Season 2 are available to borrow on DVD from WPL as well as all of the books, of course. Season 3 of Outlander premiered on the W Network on September 10th.

One final note: the Outlander series (both book and screen versions) contain scenes of extreme violence which is indicative of the time period. There are also some very steamy parts so keep a fanning device handy!

— Sandy W.

Hamilton

What we’re listening to in our house right now is actually what we are listening to in our house and in our cars because we listen to the same thing all the time right now – the soundtrack of the Broadway musical Hamilton: An American Musical.

I did this a lot when when I was a kid and would visit the music collection in the Main Library in Hamilton to bring home my favourites to play over and over but I never imagined it would happen to my own family. I know that my father was a little tired of hearing me sing “I Like to be in America” (West Side Story), and disagreed when I sang “It’s the Hard Knock life” (Annie) because it clearly wasn’t, and probably wanted me to find out how I could “solve a problem like Maria” (The Sound of Music) sooner, rather than later.

As for our family getting tired of singing about the scrappy American founding father, Alexander Hamilton, I don’t think I need to rush things. There are soulful ballads, jazz, R&B, a smattering of old fashioned Tin Pan Alley stuff, gorgeous show tunes with the full cast singing with all their heart (like when you sing along in your car at a stoplight and the person next to you tries not to look), and some truly amazing hip-hop. It doesn’t matter which track we play – they are all ‘good ones’.

I really do think that ball of sunshine, Lin Manuel-Miranda, is outstanding. His voice on the soundtrack, which is all we have to go by right now until he is back onstage performing the title role and we are lucky enough to secure tickets, is just superb. From the lightning quick cabinet room rap battles to the poignant lullaby he sings to his newborn son I just don’t feel like it is possible to tire of his voice. He plays the part of Alexander Hamilton to perfection from earnest aide de camp, attractive suitor to Elizabeth Schuyler, uncompromising lawyer and heartbroken father. The first time we listened to the soundtrack from beginning to end I found myself weeping in our kitchen. Twice. I won’t say what caused my outburst because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but even if you know the details of Alexander Hamilton’s death (this isn’t a spoiler as his birth and death dates are well known – 1755-1804) you will be moved by Lin Manuel-Miranda’s voice in the final moments of the musical.

Manuel-Miranda’s writing voice is just as wonderful as his singing voice. We are always talking about the way he is able to make us laugh and think as we enjoy the songs. I have said to our kids that if anyone at our house ever fails an exam which involves this period of American history there will be a severe punishment because by now they should have internalized it all. He lays out the basics of the significant battles, dates and the big names like Washington, Yorktown, King George III, Lafayette, Jefferson and hits the high notes with the writing of the American constitution but it is so clever that every few moments you can’t help but be amazed by the genius of the writing. It’s like he is channeling the lyrical brilliance of Sondheim, Gilbert & Sullivan, Rodgers & Hammerstein with musical influences coming from every genre. It’s magical. It makes you snap your fingers and want to dance along, try to rap as fast as they do (only when my kids aren’t looking).

Alexander Hamilton lived for less than 50 years but his impact on their country was incredible – to say he was an American founding father really isn’t enough – and it was a chance encounter with a book* (!) that Lin Manuel-Miranda read on vacation that led him to start thinking about setting this extraordinary story to music. I’m so glad that he did. I can wash my dishes so much more enthusiastically when I am listening to something like “Guns and Ships” where Aaron Burr says:

How does a ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower
Somehow defeat a global superpower?
How do we emerge victorious from the quagmire?
Leave the battlefield waving Betsy Ross’ flag higher?
Yo. Turns out we have a secret weapon!
An immigrant you know and love who’s unafraid to step in!
He’s constantly confusin’, confoundin’ the British henchmen
Ev’ryone give it up for America’s favourite fighting Frenchman!

And the entire company sings back with an enthusiastic:

Lafayette!

It’s a sensational use of language and each member of the cast does it perfectly. Their enunciation knocks my socks off every time and, when I was a kid I would lift the needle off of the record carefully and place it back to re-listen to try and figure out the lyrics but today you can go online and see endless analysis of each word, find the actors and super-fans on Twitter and Instagram to see minute-by-minute reviews as the cast prepares for performances. It’s a rabbit hole that I find myself enjoying because they seem as enthusiastic about the beauty of the music as the long list of people who have seen their show or are waiting for tickets. In the meantime we have the next best thing right here on the shelves here at WPL. Well, not exactly on the shelf because, well, it will probably be checked out. We’re talking about the music of Hamilton: An American Musical here, you know. It’s a Broadway sensation and you get to keep it for 3 weeks once you sign it out and customers do not bring it back early. They can’t. They are so busy listening to it in their cars and in their kitchens. They are listening to it non-stop.

— Penny M.

* the book that Lin Manuel-Miranda read and was so captivated by was Ron Chernow’s extremely well-reviewed Alexander Hamilton, from 2004, which we also have available here at the Waterloo Public Library.

Glory Over Everything

I am a huge fan of historical fiction. Give me a great story set in long ago eras with captivating characters and I’m in heaven.

Some of the eras I’m especially drawn to are WWII and slavery – two very emotional, brutal and turbulent times where the worst of humanity is offset by the bravery and resilience of people struggling to survive.

63275410_hrFans of Historical Fiction set in the southern United States during the 19th century will be eager to get their hands on the upcoming, Glory Over Everything from Canadian-born author Kathleen Grissom. It is the sequel to her very popular historical fiction novel, The Kitchen House, which introduced readers to a host of memorable characters and due to its focus on slavery and indentured labour, touching and often emotional story lines. While you could read Glory Over Everything as a stand-alone I think readers will have a better understanding of where Jamie and some other characters are coming from if they read The Kitchen House first. Personally, I loved reconnecting with some of my favourite characters from the first book.

The Kitchen House – With Glory Over Everything hitting shelves on April 5, 2016 readers still have time to read the first book to get acquainted with Belle, Jamie, Mama Mae, Lavinia and the rest of the characters. For those who haven’t read The Kitchen House it’s a story told via two different points of view – Belle, a black slave and Lavinia, a young Irish indentured servant. Witnessing situations from these two very different viewpoints gives readers a better understanding of just how different life was back for white servants and black slaves.

The Kitchen House focuses more on Lavinia’s story as she tries to straddle two worlds – the white world and the world of the slaves in the kitchen house. Grissom doesn’t hold back as she describes sometimes brutal descriptions of what slaves endured at the hands of their masters and also deals with different kinds of oppression – the powerlessness of women of all colours and the differences between families who seem to have it all (money, power, freedom) and slave families who appear to have nothing except each other. Grissom’s writing is vivid in its description of what life was like back in the late 18th century and evoked many different emotions in me from – shock, sadness, unconditional love, anger and joy. This book had it all. Some scenes were so emotional that they were hard to read but the characters were varied and quite multidimensional and you quickly begin to care about them.

glory-over-everything-9781476748443_hrGlory Over Everything – I was recently given an advanced reading copy of Glory Over Everything and once again Grissom captivated me from beginning to end. This sequel is definitely a page-turner and has Grissom’s signature captivating writing style and includes several characters from The Kitchen House. It follows the life of Jamie Pyke as he tries to make a life in Philadelphia while hiding a secret that could destroy the life that he has built. When someone to whom he owes a debt comes for his help Jamie realizes he must return to the south and face a very uncertain future with potentially dire consequences. The story is told once again via multiple narrators and is a fast-paced read that not only focuses on race, slavery and the Underground Railroad but on family ties and how one’s upbringing can influence us throughout our lives. With complex characters, a gripping plot and emotional scenes have made Glory Over Everything one of my favourite books of 2016.

Both of these books are filled with human endurance, strength, love, violence, betrayal, family loyalty, courage, trust and the power of hope. That’s a whole lot of emotion all wrapped up into two books but Grissom is a master at writing gripping novels that leave her readers thinking of the characters long after the last page is turned.

– – Laurie P.