Year of Historical Reading – May update

YHR-May update

As you may remember, I declared 2020 my Year of Historical Reading.  Check out this blog entry and my appearance on the Sarah’s Bookshelves Live podcast to learn more about this project.  Each month, I will post an update on how I am progressing!  As a reminder, I hope to make 85% of my reading historical fiction and nonfiction.  

May was a pretty normal reading month although how can anything be considered normal during the coronavirus pandemic?  I finished 9 books this month but due to a couple of my book clubs’ selections, only 6 of the 9 were historical fiction or nonfiction.  

Here are my books for May, and I have indicated if they were pulled from my unread shelves, purchased, or borrowed from the library.  The links below are to Bookshop.org, an Amazon alternative that supports independent bookstores.  This link is an affiliate link where I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

 

Historical Fiction

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Caroline by Sarah Miller (own)

I loved reading the Little House on the Prairie books when I was younger, and I still have a few treasured copies from my childhood.  Caroline imagines the inner life of Ma as the Ingalls family undertakes the fraught journey to the frontier in Kansas, which was told from Laura’s perspective in the 3rd book in the Little House series, Little House on the Prairie.  While the original book talks about the fun and wonder of the trip from a child’s perspective, this book really made me look at the trip a different way.  Here was a young, pregnant mother, taking her children off into the wild unknown with no means of support other than her husband.  Just reading about the struggles of making meals and doing laundry made me tired and the constant threat from the Native Americans, wild animals, weather, and fire had to be mentally taxing.  One thing that I found most interesting as a mother myself is her worry about the children, not really their physical well-being but their emotional well-being.  She worried about their personalities and what that meant for their future.  I also enjoyed learning more about Caroline’s backstory and her childhood.  I had no idea that her family underwent a time of food insecurity and how that affected her for the rest of her life.  I highly recommend this to fellow Little House fans! 

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The Little House Collection by Laura Ingalls Wilder (own)

This 2 volume collection of all 9 of the original Little House books was compiled by The Library of America and also contains several of Laura’s speeches and letters.  After reading Caroline, I had to reread these books.  I had forgotten the imaginative and playful way that Laura describes living on the frontier, from the woods of Wisconsin to the prairies of Kansas to the isolation of South Dakota.  In rereading these books that I read countless times as a child, I am struck by the difficulties and uncertainty of life in the 1870s and 1880s.  Every time Pa leaves to work hundreds of miles away or a child gets sick, I hold my breath and pray for the best.  Reading children’s literature is especially comforting during this pandemic, and by reading these books now, I can imagine myself on the prairie of South Dakota with Laura, sliding on ice and running from wolves.  It’s a great escape! 

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Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters by Jennifer Chiaverini (egalley)

Jennifer Chiaverini is one of my favorite historical fiction authors, and I love how she highlights strong women in history.  I was excited to read this egalley from her publisher and have already put in my preorder for the book, which releases tomorrow!  Chiaverini has written about Mary Todd Lincoln in several of her other books (Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival and Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker) but this is her first book that includes Mary’s childhood and family before becoming Mrs. Lincoln.  I found Mary’s childhood so sad with the death of her mother and the fracturing of her family.  Thankfully her sisters had a tight bond that stayed true over the years, even during trying times and misunderstandings.  As an only child, I love reading books about sisters and how no matter what, sisters are there for each other.  As Mary endured tragedy after tragedy and descended into mental illness, her sisters are there to help her see her way out and resume a somewhat normal life.  I loved that the book was told from different perspectives between the sisters, which really made their personalities stand out.  This book made me want to learn more about the sisters and their lives.  I can’t wait to get my hard copy!

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The Paris Hours by Alex George (own)

This book about several intertwined people in Paris during 1927 is different from most of the historical fiction books that I usually read.  It doesn’t have a strong female protagonist, it is not based on a real-life person, and it is not set during wartime.  However, I really enjoyed it and the vivid way that the author describes the Parisian streets, people, and activity.  The main story of the book is a slow burn that crescendos into a grand finale.  When you first start reading it, it is hard to keep all of the varying storylines straight but as the stories start interconnecting, the plot of the book is revealed.  I rushed to finish the book in just one day because I had to know how it ended.  A warning though, the ending is not satisfying for those readers who like things tied up, with no questions left unanswered.  I recommend it for those who may be tired of historical fiction books centered around wars and for those who love Paris.

 

Historical Nonfiction

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Women’s War: Fighting and Surviving the American Civil War by Stephanie McCurry (own)

As someone who is more interested in what was happening at the homefront rather than on the battlefield during the Civil War, I knew I had to read this book.  Professor McCurry focuses on the women of the South during the war – both free and enslaved – and how the policies and actions of wartime leaders affected them for generations to come.  This is a scholarly book, meant for academics and Civil War experts, and it is not the narrative nonfiction that is so popular right now.  However, the story it tells is one of importance.  From the Southern women who were considered enemy combatants, much to the surprise of Northern soldiers, to the enslaved women who found freedom but no real rights with the Union army, women’s rights were transformed by the war.  I was fascinated to consider the plight of the women after the war through learning about Gertrude Thomas, a wealthy Confederate who fell into poverty and homelessness in the aftermath of the war.  McCurry raises several issues that I had never considered and lays bare the struggles that all women of the time had with the patriarchal society.  

 

I also read 3 additional books outside of the historical genre:

  • A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight (own): While I don’t usually read thrillers, my book club chose this for our (virtual!) meeting this month.  It was a very twisty, intriguing, and quick read, which is good every so often to take away some of the heaviness that can come with historical books!  I am looking forward to the author’s upcoming appearance on Sarah’s Bookshelves Live!
  • Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (own): This was a read-aloud with my 5th grader for his homework.  He could have read it on his own but his teacher had warned me that (spoiler!) the grandmother dies in the book so I thought that it would be best to read it together since my mother had just passed away.  Wow, this middle grade book wrecked me!  It deals with mothers leaving, friend issues, and death but in a tender, gentle way that is good for 11-13 year olds.  It was a great read and just what we needed to help us grieve.

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  • It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way by Lysa Terkeurst (own): Read for my church book club, this Christian personal growth book had great chapters and then some so-so chapters.  I still count her book, The Best Yes, as my favorite of hers.

 

Stats for May:

66% historical fiction and nonfiction – short of my 85% goal but not too shabby!

8 of 122+ unread historical books (I have lost count of how many books I own and how many were added!)

1 egalley (but the book is on pre-order so will be added to my shelves soon!)

If you enjoy following along on my Year of Historical Reading, be sure to friend The History Mom on Goodreads and to follow me on Instagram, where I post the books I am reading in real time.

 

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