Category Archives: HF Book Review


I received a free Kindle copy of this book for the purposes of giving my honest review.

Set in 1880 in Tombstone Arizona, Blood and Silver tells a story of something that could have happened during the area’s silver rush. Carissa arrives in the silver boom-town with her mother, her mother’s boss, and her mother’s coworkers, and conflict immediately ensues when a murder occurs in her new home. She makes many friends, several unlikely for anyone else without Carissa’s wit and charm, who help her try to get her mother off Laudeman and away from her abusive and dangerous situation. She meets several dangerous challenges along the way.

Blood and Silver is a well-written and easy-to-read, enjoyable story, which seemed to be essentially told from Carissa’s point of view. However, there was some “head-hopping” though I didn’t interpret the point-of-view as intending to be omniscient. The book is characterized as Young Adult, but I’m not sure it fits that genre. The heroine is the correct age; however, it read to me more like a middle-grade novel with the subject matter regarding prostitution seeming inappropriate for that age group. Since I’m an adult, it really doesn’t matter, though.

Vali’s research on the state of Tombstone at that time period is well done; I feel like I could go there and retrace the story. Her passion for and interest in history shines through in that Vali took a real place with real time-appropriate conditions and set a fictional story into that setting flawlessly.

I read this book in a couple of sittings in a couple of hours, 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: Benson, Vali. (2020) Blood and Silver. Tellwell Talent.

Hannah’s war by Jan EliasbErg

In Hannah’s War, Jan Eliasberg, uses two mysteries from World War II – the woman who discovered nuclear fission and why the Germans never developed an atomic bomb – to create her own story of explanation. Both events led to the war’s conclusion to some degree – at least part of the motivation to create the atomic bomb was due to fear that the Germans were developing one, and the atomic bomb wouldn’t have been possible without nuclear fission.

Jack has been assigned to find the spy in their midst who’s suspected of collaborating with the Germans, and like with any good spy story, he finds and participates in lies, secrets, deception, suspicion, and double crossings as he tries to extract the truth from Hannah. Jack and Hannah develop a trust and affection for each other. It is only at the end of this quick-reading story that the reader, along with the characters, learn the real truth.

In addition to the story, the reader is allowed behind the scenes of a physics experiment that ended up changing the world permanently. Not only does Hannah’s War weave an interesting story answering a big “what if,” but it also brings to light an individual forgotten from history, Dr. Lise Meitner.

I read this book in about a week, 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 seven and a half.

Source: Eliasberg, Jan. (1919.) Hannah’s War. Little, Brown and Company: New York, NY.


Before We Were Yours is another title that came to me via my fellow-historical-fiction-loving aunt. It’s a multi-period novel involving main characters Avery Stafford in the present and May/Rill around 1939. The mystery of the story is how they (and other characters) are related.

This book started off strong and pulled me right in. The Rill/May character seemed to me to have a more unique voice, but since hers was a child viewpoint, this might be expected. Avery’s sections seemed a bit too Nicolas Sparksesque, romance novely for my taste, and that part of the story was predictable.

For a two-character point-of-view story to keep me reading each one, they both need to be compelling, and they were. I was a bit disappointed when one character’s chapter ended, but it was okay because I was left on such a cliffhanger at the end of the other character’s chapter, so I was glad to know what happened. In this case, having the two characters did add some mystery to the story and allowed the author to weave in more subplots, but I did find Rill/May’s story more compelling.

Instead of saying, “present day,” I think it would’ve been better for the author to name a year, such as 2002 or whenever she wrote it because the cell phone and communication descriptions seem archaic for 2017 (the year it was published).

The story in this novel is fiction based on real stories of survivors and victims of the Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society that stole children or obtained them via other illegal or unethical methods, passed them off as orphans, and essentially sold them to the wealthy.

The theme covered how where we come from and where we grow up affects our lives and something that happens in one person’s life can forever alter ensuring generations. It is also about truth and how it should come out no matter what (at least the author seems to think so) as well as being your true self and not just what others expect of you.

I read this book in six 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: Wingate, Lisa. (2017.) Before We Were Yours. Ballantine Books.


The Secrets of Heavenly tells the story of main character, Willa, as a slave until almost a decade prior to the civil war, through hers and other characters’ points of view. The story takes place from 1842 to 1852 and hints to the impending end of slavery as newer generations blur the lines between master and friend and slowly turn against it. I imagine this is how abolitionism in the south might have evolved.

The story is good and seems to realistically depict slavery, as much as I can imagine of course. There were several typos and punctuation errors in the book, but since the story was so good, I wasn’t distracted to the point of annoyance. The book starts out with a present-day woman reading Marianne’s journal, one of the characters in the main story. The inclusion of Marianne’s diary was interesting, but I don’t think that layer was necessary (of the beginning character receiving and reading the diary), but maybe the author felt she needed a way to introduce the diary.

The story built to a good climax and became faster paced as the end approached. There were several “Oh, no!” moments where I felt truly bad for Willa, but it wasn’t unexpected given the subject matter. Plus, you know that when you’re only halfway through a book and it looks like something wonderful is going to happen that something is probably going to go awry. The point is that I cared about Willa and hated to see bad things happen to her. There are themes of true love, accepting or not accepting the circumstances dictating life, finding positivity in the direst circumstances, and the human will to live no matter what.

Overall, this was a good story with an acceptable ending, all things considered. It’s a nice historical depiction of life leading up to the civil war. I read this book in just short of two weeks, 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 an eight.

Source: Robison, Teresa. (2013.) The Secrets of Heavenly. Writing Out Loud Publishing.

SOME LUCK by Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley is a fellow Iowan and I’d always meant to read her books but hadn’t had the chance. While browsing cheap books at the online book outlet store, I stumbled across Some Luck and ordered it.

Right away I could tell Some Luck was going to be different from other books I’d read as early in the book, Smiley includes a chapter told from an infant’s point of view. The book is also different in that each chapter is one year; I wondered if this may have signified there would be more telling than showing, but it didn’t. The book still tells an engaging story, even if it is in one-year chunks.

Some Luck is about a family and their lives from 1920 through 1953; it is told through several characters’ points of view, including those that span the whole book and some who just show up for one or two scenes (mimicking life). The main character, however, seems to be the patriarch (or who eventually becomes the patriarch), Walter Langdon. The book gives a good picture of how farming evolved during the second quarter of the twentieth century, taking the reader through the Great Depression and World War II, among other historic events, along with life in Iowa and the Midwest. I recognized most of the places mentioned, which always adds a little enjoyment to my reading. As it does in living life, the historical events occurred as a backdrop and didn’t take center stage, which I believe is how most people experience these events.

To me, the book’s theme was life and going through its different stages – infanthood, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and being grandparents; the whole circle of life. Smiley does a good job of letting the reader into the characters’ heads, witnessing their innermost thoughts and intimate moments. There is not really a plot in this book that I could discern, per se – there’s nothing that the main character overtly “wants” and is prevented from getting – there’s just the ebbs and flows and ups and downs of life in rural Iowa from 1920 to 1953.

Some Luck is classic historical fiction written in an original and literary way. I read it in one month and three weeks, 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 six and a half.

Source: Smiley, Jane. (2015 Reprint). Some Luck. Anchor.

QUEEN OF AMERICA by Luis Alberto Urrea

When Luis Alberto Urrea was appearing as a keynote speaker at a conference for an organization I volunteer with ( in June of 2017, I read his The Humminbird’s Daughter. I enjoyed it so read the sequel, Queen of America.

Since it had been several months since I read the first book in the series, I greatly appreciated the Prologue which reminded me of what happened in the first book and brought me up-to-date in a natural way.

The story starts in 1900, picking up where the previous book left off and following the rest of Teresita’s life in America. It’s one answer to the question, what if a person could perform miracles but they were still a human being with faults, desires, and tendencies impacted by the culture in the place where she lives? How might that person’s life evolve?

My favorite parts of this book were the detailed, poetic descriptions. The story is presented from an omniscient point of view of those closest to Teresita. It shows the joys and sorrows of aging from many different characters’ perspectives.

It took me a while to get into the story, starting off slow much in the same way that The Hummingbird’s Daugther did for me. I read it in just under two months, 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 four.

Source: Urrea, Luis Alberto. (2012). Queen of America. Back Bay Books.

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.


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.

LINES by Geralyn Hesslau Macgrady

Photo from Amazon

Geralyn Heslau Macgrady, winner of the Soon to Be Famous (TM) Illinois Author Project, was a co-panelist with me and some other authors/publishers at the Galena (IL) Lit Fest in January 2016. Due to my love of historical fiction and Chicago, I purchased Geralyn’s novel, Lines, set in 1871 prior, during, and after the great fire.

Lines is a story of love, loss, and how humans often are required to surrender to unforeseen circumstances, particularly in the last quarter of the 19th century, where family obligations were different, especially the tradition of marrying your brother’s widow. The main character, Livia Haa, whose family works in the tobacco business, tries to find her own way and place in the world but is forced to choose a path she hadn’t foreseen because of the great fire tragedy. A sinister con man with misplaced vengeful urges, suspense, and diverging loyalties also play a part in the plot.

I enjoyed the story and was able to feel for Livia and those for whom she cared. It was an easy read and put me in Chicago in 1871. I read this book quickly, 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 an eight.

Source: Magrady, Geralyn Hesslu. (2015). Lines.


Photo from Amazon

I purchased The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane by William Holtz during my visit to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Rocky Ridge Farm homesite in Mansfield, Missouri. Of course, I knew that Rose was Laura’s only surviving child, was an author on her own, and more well-known at the time her mother started writing, but most of what I’ve read about her was through the lens of her mother’s eyes, so I was interested in a book that focused on her as her own person.

The Ghost in the Little House is a detailed chronical of Rose Wilder Lane’s life from essentially her birth until past her death, created from the author’s obvious extensive study of her papers, travels, and everything she left behind as well as her mother. I was fascinated by this book. Being a fan of psychology and getting into people’s heads to a degree, I loved the light the book shed on this mother-daughter relationship. Each, mother and daughter, was her own person who outshined her husband and father, respectively, to the point that there is less in the world about him than almost anyone in the family, besides what Laura herself provided to the world, of course.

In addition to giving me a different perspective on one of my favorite and most influential authors, Laura Ingalls Wilder, this book also provided an interesting theory of the travel-writing industry. In Rose’s day, an author could make money by traveling the world and sending her thoughts and observations back for publication in the states, even make a living. People couldn’t travel as easily as they can today, and today, if you want to see what a location looks like, you simply log on to Google Earth or search a vast collection of images on the web. Another thing I learned was about the evolution of freelance writing – it was a much more lucrative endeavor to write as a freelancer for magazines then compared to now.

This book won’t be loved by everyone (skimming the Amazon reviews will tell you that), but if you are interested in an in-depth analysis of relationships or people, you will definitely like it. You might also enjoy it if you are a big Laura fan and/or if you enjoy history. It did take me a while to read this one, just due to its length and other obligations, 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 six and a half.

Source: Holtz, William. (1993). The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane. University of Missouri Press.