The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier – Book Review

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
Published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin

After a romantic disappointment, Honor Bright is ready for something new, a change of scenery. As such, she has agreed to travel with her sister, Grace, when she leaves England for her wedding in Ohio. If Honor ever had any idea that she might one day go back home, her catastrophic sea sickness on the voyage over puts an end to that train of thought very quickly. Even so, that might not have been a problem if Grace had not gotten very ill after they reached America. Now Honor is all alone and mourning the death of her beloved sister, with nowhere to go but on to Grace’s fiance, a man who may not have even known that she was coming. America is very foreign to Honor: the people, the scenery, and perhaps most of all the institution of slavery. Before long, she finds herself drawn by her convictions into the world of the Underground Railroad.

The Last Runaway ended up being less about the Underground Railroad than I had thought it would be. Certainly that was an aspect of it, but I think I learned more about 19th century Quakerism and immigration to the United States than I did about the Underground Railroad. Honor herself does not know much about what was happening. She knows what she believes, but not what is really happening as people attempt to escape slavery. She also has a difficult time initially understanding the complex motivations of those around her.

Despite the fact that this was not quite what I expected, it is an interesting and enjoyable book. Chevalier brings Honor to life, her ignorance perhaps doing more to make her realistic than any amount of courage of her convictions ever could. Recommended.

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Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye – Book Review

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye
Published by Amy Einhorn/Putnam Books, an imprint of Penguin

Police reports are meant to read “X killed by Y by means of Z.” But facts without motives, without the story, are just road signs with all the letters worn off. Meaningless as blank tombstones.
-Page 1

In 1845, New York is already full of Irish immigrants;. the Catholicism of most of the Irish did not sit well with the majority Protestant New Yorkers, so when the Great Potato Famine hits and an influx of immigrants promises to pour into the city, tensions rise to an all time high. On the surface, this would seem to be a good time for the city to add a police force, but such a move is not without controversy itself. New York’s new police force is very much a part of the Democratic machine, which in turn relies on votes from the Irish, making many in the city – not least the powerful thugs and criminals – its natural enemies.

Although Timothy Wilde wants nothing to do with the Democratic party, he finds himself appointed to the police force by his older brother after a terrible fire takes both his home and his place of work. Although being a copper star doesn’t really appeal to Tim, it seems that he is in the right profession when he literally stumbles across a case involving a murdered little Irish boy, a case Tim is determined to solve.

Faye excels at bringing history, mystery, and phenomenal writing together. She did so in her first novel, Dust and Shadow, and she has done so again with The Gods of Gotham. In Gods of Gotham the reader is fully immersed in mid-19th century New York, with racial, cultural, and political conflicts. Particularly good at setting the scene is Faye’s masterful use of flash in the vocabulary of her characters. In order not to confuse her readers, Faye includes a dictionary of selected flash terms at the beginning of the book, as well as weaving explanations into the context of the story. It is impressive how she manages to do this without it seeming as if she is explaining what is being said on each and every page, but while still remaining true to her characters. As far as the mystery, Faye provides enough clues that a reader can begin to guess who might be involved and perhaps even why, but not so many that there are no surprises left during the climax. As for Faye’s writing, her prose is beautiful and evocative, without getting in the way of the fascinating story she has to tell.

Mystery, history, and prose, The Gods of Gotham has everything. Highly recommended.

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Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, for BOOK CLUB.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair – Book Review

The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair
Published by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette

At some level, Rakhee knew her mother wasn’t happy in their home in the Midwest; at some level she may have even known that her mother’s heart did not truly belong to her father. Safe at home, however, these facts are (mostly) easy to ignore. To children parents are parents, they are not unique people. When Rahkee’s mother takes her to visit India, she is pulled unwillingly into the realization that her mother is a real person, with real desires that may not involve either Rakhee or her father. In the midst of these adolescent realizations, Rakhee finds a secret garden out behind her family’s house and what may be her family’s greatest secret.

The Girl in the Garden is a beautiful coming of age novel, an immediately engaging story. Rakhee is a likeable narrator, but appropriately flawed. As any adolescent she can be demanding and obnoxious, but she is also trying to hold her family together the  best that she can. Certainly she is willful, but it is that very willfulness that leads her to the garden and gives her the knowledge to either break her family apart or bring it back together.

Nair’s lush writing pulled me right in, and the emotional depth she imparted upon her young narrator kept me turning the pages. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: publisher, for an episode of What’s Old is New.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom – Audiobook Review

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, narrated by Orlagh Cassidy and Bahni Turpin
Published in audio by Blackstone Audio; Published in print by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster


After both of her parents die on their crossing from Ireland to America, seven-year old Lavinia is taken on as an indentured servant by the captain of the ship on which she sailed, in order to pay for her fare. As the only white indentured servant on the plantation, Lavinia’s place is somewhat uncertain. She lives with the plantation slaves, but is educated by her master’s family and treated completely differently than is the rest of their help. Inevitably, as Lavinia grows up, her dual identity as a white and eventually free person and someone who considers herself part of a family whose other members are enslaved causes problems that may put her and those she loves in danger.

Thoughts on the story:

I don’t know if it has to do with the books I happen to pick up or what is being published at any point in time in general, but I oftentimes find myself in a morass of historical fiction, drowning in books which are all on the same topic. As such, “The Kitchen House” was very refreshing indeed. I have only read one other book with a character who is an indentured servant, and the quality of the writing and storytelling was definitely better in “The Kitchen House.” Lavinia was not the only narrator, the enslaved woman with whom she lived, Belle, also narrated some chapters, although she had a small percentage of the book as compared with Lavinia. Grissom handled the dual narrators well, however. Belle was able to show the reader things that Lavinia could not know, but was given enough depth and emotion that her narration did not seem just a cheap plot device, but actually enhanced the story being told.

Thoughts on the audio production:

I thought the narration was terrific. For more specifics, please see the review I wrote for AudioFile Magazine.


I think this would be enjoyable either in print or in audio. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound: Audio/Print*
Amazon: Audio/Print*

Source: Audiofile Magazine, print copy from publisher
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.