To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
This is a beautiful book, printed on heavy, smooth paper. Scattered through the book are photographs, maps, newspaper articles, and descriptions of objects in a collection. The rest of this historical novel set in Alaska and Vancouver, Washington is in the form of letters and journal entries, mostly by Colonel Allen Forrester and his wife Sophie. In 1885, Allen is leading an expedition up the Wolverine River into the interior of Alaska, to map and make contact with the Alaska natives. Sophie is waiting for his return in army housing, expecting their first child and learning to photograph birds and develop the pictures. A tale of adventure, hard to explain encounters in the wilderness for Allen, and a tale of waiting, hoping, and learning for Sophie. A remarkable second novel by the author of The Snow Child.
Into the Dim by Janet Taylor
After her mother’s funeral, teen Hope Walton reluctantly travels to Scotland to meet her aunt. She learns that her mother is alive, but is trapped in London in 1154. Homeschooled Hope can remember everything she reads, is claustrophobic, and has recurrent nightmares. Only the memory skills are helpful when she travels back in time to the coronation of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II with her cousin and her new friend Phoebe. Caught up in the drama and intrigue of London and the Court, Hope’s cousin gets arrested and Hope encounters Bran, a handsome teen she met in Scotland. Is Bran going to help Hope and Phoebe, or is he one of her family’s enemies? Fearful Hope is an unexpected heroine, but pretty good company in this first novel full of drama, adventure, fights, and some romance. The historical London setting is vividly drawn, and readers will look forward to Hope’s next time travel adventure. Kerstin Gier’s Ruby Red trilogy is a good readalike.
I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows
This book is set in Oklahoma, during the Dust Bowl. It should be depressing to read, but somehow isn’t, although some readers may feel differently. Annie and Samuel Bell migrated from Kansas to a homestead in the Oklahoma panhandle when they married. They have two children, Birdie, 15, and sweet Fred, 8, who is mute and carries a slate and chalk to communicate. Annie wants Birdie to move to a big city when she finishes school, but Birdie is restless and quite interested in farmer’s son Cy. Annie mourns lost baby Eleanor, and Samuel wonders if his recurrent dreams of abundant rain mean that he should build a boat, maybe even an ark. Other intriguing characters are the pastor, who tries to encourage the town, and mayor Jack Lily, a former Chicago journalist, who’s attracted to Birdie. Fred struggles with asthma as the dust storms arrive, and a few neighboring farmers suddenly move away. The setting reminds me of The Personal History of Rachel Dupree by Ann Weisgarber, but this book has beautiful, almost lyrical writing, with quirky, richly drawn characters, and a tone that’s more melancholy and moving then bleak. In the end, Annie and Samuel love and support each other, even as they deal with hardship and loss. A memorable historical novel.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
Small town Texas in 1870 comes to life as Captain Jefferson Kidd, in his early seventies, travels around the state, charging a dime each to read to a crowd for an hour. Whenever he’s in a city, he buys newspapers and journals from all over, and highlights articles to inform and entertain his listeners, while trying to stay away from controversial topics right after the Civil War. I found this part of the book charming and interesting, and then Kidd is asked to take a 10-year-old girl 400 miles south to her family in San Antonio, for $50. Johanna was taken by the Kiowa at age 6, and she remembers little of her past. Kidd and Johanna learn to communicate a little, and she enjoys life on the road in a wagon. They have numerous adventures, including being shot at by a cowboy and his gang, but realize it will all end when the Captain leaves Johanna with her aunt and uncle. I would enjoy hearing the Captain read to a crowd, and I’d definitely enjoy learning what comes next for Johanna, trying to find her place in an alien world. Moving, adventurous, and unique; this book is not to be missed by any reader of historical fiction. This book will be published on October 4.
The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
Elderly Alma Belasco is a woman of mystery, and grandson Seth asks her part-time secretary Irina to help him discover Alma’s secrets. As a girl, Alma is sent by her parents from Poland in 1939 to her aunt and uncle in San Francisco, while her parents remain behind. The Belasco family mansion in San Francisco is only sketchily described, except for the gardens. Alma is befriended by her cousin Nathaniel, whom she later marries, and by Ichimei, the Japanese gardener’s son. In the present, Nathaniel has died and Alma is living at Lark House for seniors, having shed all of her social responsibilities. Lark House and its quirky occupants are lovingly described, along with their activities. I would have liked more scenes with Ichimei, who was sent to an internment camp in Topaz, Utah, with his family. Some of his letters to Alma are included.
Irina, a young immigrant from Eastern Europe, has her own secrets, which don’t seem to fit with the rest of the story. Some chapters of textile artist Alma’s colorful life are rushed, and the author tells rather than shows what happened, as if filling in an outline of events. Other passages are beautifully written, leaving me uncertain how to rate this book. In the end I wanted to know more about Alma, the enigmatic Ichimei, and the residents and staff of Lark House.
Arabella of Mars by David Levine
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this fun adventure and science fiction novel, set in London in the early 18th century, on Mars, and in the breathable skies between. Arabella Ashby and her brother Michael, raised by a Martian nanny, enjoy life on their Martian koresh wood plantation, but their mother takes Arabella to London so that she can become a proper young lady. Soon, Arabella needs to get back to Mars to save Michael from a threat on his life. She signs on to the sailing ship Diana as a cabin boy, and her skills in working with clockwork automata are helpful. The Diana, built of lightweight koresh wood with silk parachutes for landing, has a mechanical navigator to help chart a course around the Horn, a zone of turbulent weather. Arabella, in disguise as Arthur, enjoys the journey despite the hardships, including an attack by a French privateer and a mutiny against Captain Singh. More adventures await on Mars, and Arabella will need Captain Singh’s help to save the day. Naomi Novik and Mary Robinette Kowal are good readalikes with Regency era fantasy, but not quite the same tone, perhaps because they aren’t science fiction/adventure novels. I need to find more books as well-written and fun as this one, read some of the author’s short stories, and wait for a sequel to Arabella of Mars.