Tag Archives: historical fiction review

ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train Cover

This is another book that came to me courtesy of my fellow historical-fiction-loving aunt. She read it, and thinking I would enjoy it, loaned it to me. She was correct.

Orphan Train is one of several books written about the practice of transporting orphaned children from New York City to the Midwest for adoption. Though the book was characterized as literary fiction, it read more like a young adult book to me. That isn’t saying anything against the story, however.

There is a strong element of mystery throughout the story as I wondered how Niamh went from being an orphan to owning a store to being a rich, old lady. The story is told in two different time periods – the late 1920s and the early 2000s – and it’s about two orphans in similar, but not exactly the same, situation who find each other and weave their lives together. One theme seems to be that things aren’t always what they seem, with the “moral” being to not assume that someone has always had it easy. Also, things that seem random will make sense one day and feel like they were meant to be.

Orphan Train is also very much a story of survival – how two different people in two different, but similar situations, in two different time periods survived. Other than the obvious differences because of the time periods, the way Niamh and Molly became orphans are different. The similarities are mostly in how they both bounced from family to family until they found one that fits.

This book gave me a good insight into a world about which I know very little. The way orphans were handled in 1929 and today is not so different; kids get placed with people who may not treat them right and can be turned out on a whim. They can’t strive for more because they feel like they’re lucky just to have a roof, so they grow up feeling undervalued. Unfortunately, based on what I’ve seen and heard, the foster care system of today doesn’t seem much different in this respect than the orphan trains.

Another theme that runs throughout the story is baggage; what people bring with them and what they leave behind as they journey throughout their lives. Most of the time, baggage consists of more than physical things, or it can be just a few things, but it’s always there.

Historical fiction readers and readers who like the melding of two time periods will enjoy this book. It was a good story, well written, that made me think. I read this book in four days, so on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it a nine.

Source: Kline, Christina Baker. (2013). Orphan Train. William Morrow.

GRAND CENTRAL: ORIGINAL STORIES OF POSTWAR LOVE AND REUNION by Various Authors

Photo from Amazon

I purchased Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion after reading Diy MFA by Gabriela Pereira because she suggests reading short stories in your genre. Though the subtitle states the stories are about postwar love and reunion, don’t expect all mushy, happy-ending stories. In many cases, the stories are heart breaking and don’t involve the typical reunion of separated lovers as you might expect. Sometimes the reunion is with something or someone entirely different. 


The stories in Grand Central take place after World War II. As you might expect, Grand Central Terminal in New York is the setting for at least part of each story. All of the stories are connected as the characters encounter each other unknowingly in their own stories. It took me a few to catch on, but when I did, it was fun to look for the connections, and I just thought it was really cool.


The stories include characters related to WWII in numerous ways, so in that way, the idea of the war affecting real lives and real human beings is enforced. And sometimes the character’s mate returning from the war wasn’t a happy occasion. Lives went on as the war did, and people were changed,


It’s hard to find the words to adequately describe these stories. I was moved by them all. The stories are made more special in that their authors are all women, bringing the female perspective (if imagined) to a war from which mainly male perspectives have been told.


As a writer, I should go back and read the stories again as more of the study tool for which I originally purchased the book, because I got so engrossed as I read them. Obviously they are good stories then and should be studied, right?

Each of the stories can be read within about a half an hour, so for each story individually, on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give them a nine. For the book as a whole, I give it a seven and three-quarters.

Source: Benjamin, Melanie, et al. (2014). Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion. Berkley Books: New York.

THE HUMMINGBIRD’S DAUGHTER by Luis Alberto Urrea

Photo from Amazon

Luis Alberto Urrea is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the Midwest Writing Center’s David R. Collins Writer’s Conference on June 22, 2017, so I decided I should read at least one of his books. I was happy to discover he wrote historical fiction, so I chose The Hummingbird’s Daughter.

The story takes place in the late 1880s in Mexico and essentially presents the life story of Teresita from before birth through death. It is beautifully written with vivid imagery and Spanish words sprinkled in to give it Mexican flavor. It is full of the supernatural and spiritual, intertwining them beautifully.

If there was one different choice I may have made as an author, it would’ve been to begin the story later. Showing Teresita’s mother and fate before Teresita was a little girl reminded me a little of backstory dumping or the author forcing in facts. The extra material at the beginning delayed my getting engaged with the story.

Once I did, though, when Teresita hit her pre-teen years, I was hooked. There are a lot of characters in the story and the author trades point-of-view among them, but there is a “family” tree at the beginning of the book and it didn’t take me long to get a handle on who was who. The writing seemed authentic and painted a vivid picture of life in pre-civil-war Mexico. And I loved that it was based on family lore substantiated by discovered articles. Though I don’t know for sure, of course, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of historical fiction based in Mexico, so this provided a refreshing new period and place to explore.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Mexican history, the supernatural, spirituality, and coming-of-age stories. I enjoyed it, so much his other historical fiction book is on its way to me. Just because of the slow start, on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it a six and a half.

Source: Urrea, Luis Alberto. (2005). The Hummingbird’s Daughter. Back Bay Books.