spoiler alert: The Founding Fathers hated each other…

So… “Hamilton” is a thing. You can’t get much more all-American than George Washington. Jefferson created the basis for the laws we still follow today. And there are a handful of other Founding Fathers we learn about in elementary school, and then probably forget unless somebody asks us “who is on the $1 bill?” or their birthday means we get a day off from work or school.

But do you know what we don’t learn about the Founding Fathers in elementary school?

That they kinda hated each other with an awesome sort of passion.

I sort of knew this, especially since Alexander Hamilton was the sort of guy who would duel and be killed by Aaron Burr, the Vice President!

There is so much more to the feuds of the Founding Fathers, though. So very much more. And Paul Aron lays it all out brilliantly in FOUNDING FEUDS.

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If you ever need a good, old-timey insult to fling at somebody during a political debate (and who doesn’t need an insult in a political debate?), look no further than the Founding Fathers. After all, Aron cites William Cobbett saying of Thomas Paine (English and European, but also greatly influencing the creation of America was we know it):

How Tom gets a living now, or what brothel he inhabits, I know not. Whether his carcass is at last to be suffered to rot on the earth, or to be dried in the air, is of very little consequence… Like Judas he will be remembered by posterity; men will learn to express all that is base, malignant, treacherous, unnatural and blasphemous, by the singly monosyllable, Paine.

And they were friends! (Sometimes.)

But that’s just a taste.

It’s really not surprising that they showed and shared such a deep-rooted dislike for and distrust of one another. Their egos and senses of self had to be huge to think they could start a revolution and found a country. No way they could all peacefully co-exist without proverbial, and sometimes literal, bloodshed.

So if you need a break from the political bickering that’s currently and always ongoing, I could not recommend something more than I can recommend this book. The vaunted Founding Fathers argued in a much classier way, and they weren’t afraid to mince their words. It’s great!

(I received a copy of FOUNDING FEUDS through NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS in exchange for an honest & original review. All thoughts are my own.)

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“Future Leaders of Nowhere” by Emily O’Beirne

Want to know the surefire sign of a good book? Finding yourself confronted with the promise of a sequel, given a vague date (Autumn 2017, in this case), and saying to yourself (possibly aloud, since you stayed up until nearly one in the morning devouring said book) “ooh, I gotta get that book!”

This is what happened when I finished Emily O’Beirne’s FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE last night, this morning… however you want to look at it.

I requested the book from NetGalley (in exchange for an honest and original review) because it seemed different (being listed as LGBTQIA and Teen/YA), got it (thanks Ylva Publishing!), briefly forgot about it, then read it. And I love it!

I really cannot emphasize how much I love this book!

Set in Australia (thereby ticking the box of being set somewhere I don’t usually read about), FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE is set in a month-long retreat-style camp where a variety of high schools send teams of seven high-achieving students (who are “future leaders”) to compete in a nation-building game. Having been through American high school (public and poor, truth be told), I really, really, really wish this sort “game” existed for us. It sounds incredibly fun, challenging, and important. And maybe ritzier, better funded, private schools here do have things like this. Who knows. Maybe I’d rather not know.

Anyway…

The first half of the book is told from Finn’s perspective. She is “captain” of her co-ed high school (this idea of school captains is also mildly foreign to me) and her team quickly elects her their leader in the game. She does not particularly want the job and, honestly, she’s not that great at it when the game starts. She tries to please all of the people all of the time. Even in the democracy that her team is assigned, that is a doomed leadership style.

But Finn meets Willa, the leader of the team from a fancy all-girls school.

And Willa, who tells the second half of the story, meets Finn.

Both girls are coming off having been burned in relationships that they were more invested in than their partners but they move forward together, wary of history and the looming specter of the game. Finn becomes a better leader because Willa gives her confidence and Willa opens up to her classmates, thereby becoming a better leader as well, because Finn helps her see that she won’t always be hurt if she shares who she is with someone else.

Beyond Finn and Willa there is an amazing, relatable, fun cast of supporting characters that I want to know more about.

FUTURE LEADERS OF NOWHERE is sweet, heartfelt, touching, funny, sad, honest, and generally lovely.

I am so glad I requested an ARC of this book, more glad that I got an ARC, and the most glad that there is more of this story to look forward to!

“After the Parade” by Lori Ostlund

23492669It’s some kind of masterful when you spend the first quarter of a book thinking that the main character is a self-absorbed, ambivalent, almost blissfully ignorant fool but then you read the middle half of the book, getting ever more caught up in his story, and the final quarter of the book realizing that none of those things that made him unlikable and unrelatable at first were his fault and he did grow from them, whether by choice or by force. Sometimes life isn’t anyone’s fault. To alter the title a bit, sometimes life is just a parade it’s hard to see the end of.

AFTER THE PARADE is Lori Ostlund’s tale of a forty-one year old man name Aaron Englund. An ESL teacher, the story begins with him packing up a U-Haul in Albuquerque and leaving for San Francisco. He’s leaving behind eighty-two year old Walter, the man he’s been with for twenty-three years – and known a few years longer. The math works out to mean that Aaron was eighteen and Walter thirty-six when they first became a couple. That fact lands somewhere between unnerving and sad. As a reader, it’s easy to feel bad for Walter at the start. The man he loves leaves on Christmas Eve after nearly a quarter century. He’s elderly.

But then it becomes so much more complicated than that.

As Aaron travels – literally to San Francisco and figuratively to figuring out who he is – his story is told. His memories of an abusive father and a distant mother, who was more distant because of her abusive husband. His memories of never quite fitting in to normal groups at school. His tendency to gravitate toward the outcasts of society, almost as though he is searching for himself in them more than he is searching for a true friend. And so it comes that by the time he meets Walter as a teenager, his father is dead and his mother is gone.

Aaron is inherently a boy in need of something he never had. That he would find comfort in a stable older man when most boys his age would be doing anything but settling down, makes perfect sense. As in all things, defining love and the existence of love is tricky and almost impossible.

In time, woven into a rich story with so many threads, it becomes clear that Aaron teaches English to immigrants because he sees himself as one of them, in a way. He is an observer too, trying to figure out just how to make it through an uncomfortable, unfamiliar world without getting hurt. And maybe get through it with someone to love. The questions his students ask, the stories they tell him… they help Aaron to find himself.

Ostlund’s novel is harsh and sometimes breathtaking in it’s sadness but it is beautiful. Everything makes sense in the end, especially the most perfect of endings.

(I received a copy of AFTER THE PARADE through NetGalley and Scribner in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)

Putting the History in historical fiction

Blame it all on Laura Ingalls Wilder.

My addiction to historical fiction, that is. Blame it on Little House on the Prairie and all the books that followed it. My mom read me the books as I learned to read and they were the first chapter books I read on my own. I still have the same copies as I did when I was little, because well-worn books are well-loved books. Obviously. In any case, I spent some lovely early childhood years wishing I lived on the prairie. Mostly. I don’t like bugs and playing catch with pigs’ bladders filled air just seemed… no. I do admit to being a tv fiend as well, so I was definitely influenced by the reruns of Little House on the Prairie that I watched whenever I was allowed.

Huh. Now that I think about it, that was my first book-to-screen adaptation experience. I like that.

Anyway, the thing that naturally happens after when finishes being a child is that one is an adult who understands things just a little bit better. Sometimes not much at all, but a little bit. This happened to me.

It turned out that I don’t just love little girls on prairies in the second half of the 19th century, especially ones who grow up to marry the man they love. Possibly Almanzo Wilder was my first book boyfriend before I knew what a book boyfriend was, even though he’d been dead for forty-plus years. I was too young to know that, or care! Oh but for that simpler time…

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But I digress. It turned out that I love all history. Just the word history makes me happy. I have a degree in it, for pete’s sake. And I (still) love to read. So, finding myself an adult in need of something to read, I feel page over spine in love with the genre of Historical Fiction. Though, in retrospect, I realized I’d already read a lot of the stuff – Little House and Anne of Green Gables (Gilbert Blythe was definitely my true first book boyfriend, and he was fictional!) to name just two. But Historical Fiction is definitely my addiction and I am not sorry about it. Show me a cover with a castle or some bygone era fashion and I’ll read the jacket, or jacket equivalent if I’m online. If the jacket and summary make it fairly clear there will be no iPhones or Teslas in the story, I’ll probably give the book a try. If it so much as looks like World War II, the American West, or Tudor England… count me in!

Totally addicted.

But this particular genre is not without it’s drawbacks, as I’m sure anyone who has a favorite genre will say. You see, when you love something, you tend to know a lot about it. And when you know a lot about something, you tend to get annoyed when someone gets it wrong. And when someone gets it wrong in a book you want to love, you tend to want to throw the book out the window.

I love history. So I know things like the fact that the Union Pacific Railroad was completed, thus making the first transcontinental railroad, in 1869. It’s an important part of American history, you see. So when I recently found myself reading a novel about the Japanese internment camps in America during World War II that, apparently for the simple sake of making on character able to have worked on said railroad because… reasons, moved the date to 1895, or later. That’s a twenty-six year difference, or more, because the character says in 1942 that he came to America, then got a job with the Union Pacific as a cook, and was there when the two lines met. And the author wrote him as in his early 20s when he came to America so… he would literally not have have been born when the lines met!

(Incidentally, I do admit that pretty much the only time I’m willing to do math is when I’m figuring out history. Sorry not sorry.)

The author of that book did preface the book by saying that she shortened distances between places (thankfully not between Japan and the United States… just towns in Wyoming) and moved dates around. A little. She said it was just a little. Twenty-six years is not a little!

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This is an example of the problem with the genre I love. I used this example because that book and it’s inaccuracies are still on my mind. Because I wanted to read that book. Badly. I didn’t, and that’s on me and my… issues with the genre I love so much it ends up being a love-hate relationship. I don’t think I’m the only one with this book lover problem. I hope.

I do get that these books are meant to be fiction, that drowning a book in facts and details and minutiae is not going to make for a compelling novel. There has to be some adherence to actual history, though. Doesn’t there?

Every article on writing advice and tips says to write what you know. That applies here as much as anywhere. Write the historical fiction (because I want to read it) but keep the history true. Don’t change history to fit your characters, change your characters to fit history. Don’t write that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon 1989 because you want your millennial computer geek to have created a program for Apollo 11 with Mark Zuckerberg. It happened in 1969. Write about someone who created a program in 1969 and leave Mark Zuckerberg out of it.*

The sum of it is that historical fiction should be true to history. Invent characters and places, sure. But – for example…

  • don’t write a novel about the Civil War and leave out the gruesome details of slavery because it is not politically correct today – those details are history
  • don’t have World War II end when Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941 – it did not end then, anything else is alternative history and
  • (most importantly) don’t pick what you want to be true about your character and twist history to fit it – work harder on your character instead

And now I will step off my soapbox and go find a historical fiction novel to read. Anybody got any suggestions?

*I know of no books that combine Neil Armstrong and Mark Zuckerberg. I just made that up for the sake of examples.

“A Want of Kindness” by Joanne Limburg

33271065If I have a weakness when it comes to books, a fail-safe fallback genre, it is historical fiction. Specifically historical fiction based on queens and kings. Specifically based on queens and kings of England. Show me a queen on a cover or in a blurb and I will read that book.

It is not, therefore, at all surprising that I was excited to read Joanne Limburg’s A WANT OF KINDNESS.

To make it even more appealing, her story is centered on Queen Anne of England. Queen Anne, if you don’t know, is not like either Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, Queen Mary, or the wives of Henry VIII who were queens who did not rule. Queen for only five years, her reign was neither glamorous nor marked by controversy nor long enough to qualify for Hollywood films. She was the second oldest daughter of King James II and she succeeded the William III, who had ruled jointly with her sister, Mary. She was the last monarch from the House of Stuart, as she died childless. Childless despite at least seventeen pregnancies and only one child, a son, surviving as far as age 11. She was married from 1677 until her husband’s death in 1708. So her story is one of tragedy, on the whole, and yet the beauty of a reportedly loving marriage despite so much tragedy.

This, perhaps not surprisingly, does not make the sort of thing Hollywood believes it can make money on. And, to be honest, it probably can’t.

It’s really too bad.

I first learned about Queen Anne in my college English history class, and even the professor talked about seventeen pregnancies and no children. And then we moved quickly on, because Queen Victoria was coming after some Georges. I have thought about her sometimes since, wanting to know more but never wanting it badly enough to search out a biography. I’m a terrible history buff sometimes!

But this book, this fictionalized account of Queen Anne’s life from her childhood to her ascension, is really quite incredible. Possibly because, despite not having the glitz, glamour, intrigue, and longevity of the more famous queens, she lived in an incredible time. She was at the center of religious upheaval. She had seen her father, her uncle, and her grandfather struggle in their reigns. She witnessed wars with France and Spain and the Netherlands.

So Limburg’s fictionalized account Anne’s life is not what can usually be read about queens and kings. The intrigue is not romantic. She never had affairs, though it could be argued from her letters – actual things Anne wrote that Limburg uses to illustrate the story – that she had something bordering on romantic love for Sarah Churchill. She tried to do good, for herself and her family, for her country, and for all. And she succeeded, most of the time, even if it never really seems like it. And the reason it never really seems like it is because she never gets her happy ending. Never gets the things she wants more than any other.

Queen Anne deserves more recognition as an important part of British history. She truly is one of the most tragic, yet interesting rulers of England I have read about. And Limburg’s portrayal makes her all the more fascinating and charismatic.

If you have a weakness for this genre, and don’t mind a distinct lack of bursting corsets and illicit rendezvous in shadowy corners, this book is a definite Must Read.

(I received a copy of A WANT OF KINDNESS through NetGalley and Pegasus Books in exchange for an honest & original review. All thoughts are my own.)

“The Young Widower’s Handbook” by Tom McAllister

The first chapter of Tom McAllister’s THE YOUNG WIDOWER’S HANDBOOK is quite possibly one of the most beautiful, romantic things I have ever read. It left me breathless. And not in the euphemistic, overdramatic sort of way. I was actually breathless.

It’s hard to review books like this, books that make you feel so much more than you ever expected to feel. Nothing seems to quite say enough good things about something that was so much more than simply good.

But we have to try so…

THE YOUNG WIDOWER’S HANDBOOKS is the story of Hunter Cady’s journey from slightly aimless young man to devoted husband to grieving widower to slightly more aimless slightly older man.

That summary seems cold and even harsh but it is a proper summary. Hunter wasn’t quite sure where he fit in the world until he met Kait. Kait loved him and he found his place. And then Kait died and Hunter was lost again.

Slightly more romantic summary, yes? Tragic too.

But McAllister tells the story with power and emotional and an intensity that can’t adequately be described secondhand. It’s one of the books where you read it, someone asks how it was and the only good answer is “oh god, you have to read it too!”

Which feels 100% like a cheat on this my book review blog but… what can you do? Oh, I know! Read the book!

This will be my final attempt at telling you about this story…

Kait Cady dies before she turns 30. Left adrift without the one person who made him feel alive, Hunter cannot bring himself let her go in the ways that everyone else thinks he should let her go. So, with her life insurance check in the bank, he takes her ashes on a cross-country trip that they’d meant to take one day. It’s all an attempt to hold onto her, to keep her in his life. That it can never work makes the story all the more heartbreaking and beautiful. That he learns, over the weeks of the trip, that maybe everything wasn’t perfect in their marriage, in their lives makes the story all the more heartbreaking, beautiful, and real. That none of this changes how much he loved her makes the story perfect.

(I received a copy of THE YOUNG WIDOWER’S HANDBOOK through NetGalley and Algonquin books in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.)

“You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)” by Felicia Day

I loved this book for some very important reasons:

1. Not to brag (and really, I’m not!) but Felicia Day and I are almost the same age so her discovery of the wonders of the internet, of being able to not be weird because there are like-minded people on the internet, of getting lost in the worlds of the internet kind of basically mirrors my own. I mean, I’m not internet-famous, Hollywood-famous and no one is going to read my memoirs (yet! we’ll go with that, ha!). I’m not a gamer. I know some of the things she references because of just paying attention on the internet.

2. My vice is fandoms of the YA book series variety and, honestly, I have met some of the best friends I will ever have through finding a shared love of Twilight (yes, Twilight… shush, haters). I’ve never met them in person but I’ve been talking to them for years (and years is far longer than I’ve talked basically anyone I knew in school). And that’s okay.

3. I’m introverted enough to need someone to occasionally say that all this is okay. To say “me too!” And that is basically what I found myself saying over and over as I read Felicia Day’s book. “Me too!” It felt darn good!

I don’t usually read memoirs because I don’t… get them. Not unless you’re like eighty and solved world hunger or something. But people my age or younger, writing books about their lives? I generally say “you do you, I’m gonna read that book over there instead” because… I don’t know, maybe it makes me feel unaccomplished. Maybe it’s jealousy. Who can say? The point is, I was very pleasantly surprised by this. It was almost like she was as startled to be writing the book as I was to be reading it. That’s a good thing.

And, in the best sense of irony, I bought and read this book because one of those best of friends I met on fanfiction.net and Twitter through a shared love of Twilight who told me I would like this book. And I loved it! So thanks, everybody!