Oct 272015
 

christmas bellsChristmas Bells: A Novel
Dutton (October 27, 2015)
Setting – Massachusetts
An Imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
Hardcover: 336 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0525955245
E-Book ASIN: B00SI02BZ6
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New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini celebrates Christmas, past and present, with a wondrous novel inspired by the classic poem “Christmas Bells,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day/ Their old familiar carols play/ And wild and sweet/ The words repeat/Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

In 1860, the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow family celebrated Christmas at Craigie House, their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The publication of Longfellow’s classic Revolutionary War poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” was less than a month hence, and the country’s grave political unrest weighed heavily on his mind. Yet with his beloved wife, Fanny, and their five adored children at his side, the delights of the season prevailed.

In present-day Boston, a dedicated teacher in the Watertown public school system is stunned by somber holiday tidings. Sophia’s music program has been sacrificed to budget cuts, and she worries not only about her impending unemployment but also about the consequences to her underprivileged students. At the church where she volunteers as music director, Sophia tries to forget her cares as she leads the children’s choir in rehearsal for a Christmas Eve concert. Inspired to honor a local artist, Sophia has chosen a carol set to a poem by Longfellow, moved by the glorious words he penned one Christmas Day long ago, even as he suffered great loss.

Christmas Bells chronicles the events of 1863, when the peace and contentment of Longfellow’s family circle was suddenly, tragically broken, cutting even deeper than the privations of wartime. Through the pain of profound loss and hardship, Longfellow’s patriotism never failed, nor did the power of his language. “Christmas Bells,” the poem he wrote that holiday, lives on, spoken as verse and sung as a hymn.

Jennifer Chiaverini’s resonant and heartfelt novel for the season reminds us why we must continue to hear glad tidings, even as we are tested by strife. Reading Christmas Bells evokes the resplendent joy of a chorus of voices raised in reverent song.

Dollycas’s Thoughts

There are two stories in this book. One set in present time and the other in 1863. They are tied together by Longfellow poem Christmas Bells. The book alternates chapters going back and forth between the two stories.

The main story tells the reader about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his family before and through the civil war. As always Jennifer Chiaverini has researched his life and bought us a wonderful story and presented a slice of history in a very enjoyable way. His love for his family and the heartbreak he suffers leaps off the pages. His wonderful poems are given new life. That new life shines in the second story.

The present day story introduces us to Sophia, a schoolteacher whose music program is being slashed by budget cuts. Something that is happening all across the United States. Sophia is also the music director at her church. She is featuring the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” based on Longfellow poem for the church’s Christmas service. This story takes place in a short period of time and each chapter is told from a different person’s point of view. This story was entertaining as well. Because parts of the story overlapped there was quite a bit a repetition. I found myself skimming those parts and wish the author had found another way to present this story. The characters were very engaging and I would have liked a broader story about them.

Chiaverini has added another wonderful book to her repertoire. Perfect for the holiday season.

just you and a friend4 STARFISHDollycas

You can find out more about Jennifer Chiaverini and her books on her webpage here.



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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Feb 192015
 

mrs grantMrs. Grant and Madame Jule
DUTTON
Published by The Penguin Group
Historical Women’s Fiction
Setting – Various
Release Date – March 3, 2015
Hardcover: 400 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0525954293
E-Book ASIN: B00SA4ZU94
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In 1844, Missouri belle Julia Dent met dazzling horseman Lieutenant Ulysses S Grant. Four years passed before their parents permitted them to wed, and the groom’s abolitionist family refused to attend the ceremony.

Since childhood, Julia owned as a slave another Julia, known as Jule. Jule guarded her mistress’s closely held twin secrets: She had perilously poor vision but was gifted with prophetic sight. So it was that Jule became Julia’s eyes to the world.

And what a world it was, marked by gathering clouds of war. The Grants vowed never to be separated, but as Ulysses rose through the ranks—becoming general in chief of the Union Army—so did the stakes of their pact. During the war, Julia would travel, often in the company of Jule and the four Grant children, facing unreliable transportation and certain danger to be at her husband’s side.

Yet Julia and Jule saw two different wars. While Julia spoke out for women—Union and Confederate—she continued to hold Jule as a slave behind Union lines. Upon the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Jule claimed her freedom and rose to prominence as a businesswoman in her own right, taking the honorary title Madame. The two women’s paths continued to cross throughout the Grants’ White House years in Washington, DC, and later in New York City, the site of Grant’s Tomb.

Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule is the first novel to chronicle this singular relationship, bound by sight and shadow.

Dollycas’s Thoughts

Marriage is a partnership and that theme blooms within the pages of Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule. When Julia Dent met Ulysses S Grant her life changed forever. A whole new world opened to her as he looked beyond her flaws and took her into his life. She followed him around the country as his military career prospered and slowly realized that all women no matter the color of their skin should be equal but it was too late as her maid Jule has run away several years earlier.

The Grant’s life is well chronicled but her maid Jules life in this story was created by the author. I am sure the research for a novel like this is immense. To fictionalize it like this must be very difficult but Chiaverini brings it all together in a way that captures a love story while portraying life at the time of civil war for those embroiled in the battles.

I enjoyed reading Jules part of the story but this was the story of Julia Dent Grant. Another slave, Gabriel, was very important to Jule but he was sold by Julia’s father and he left the pages of the story until the very end of the book. I wish we could have followed his travels as well.

Jennifer Chiaverini has written a few of these Civil War era stories and she covers the people and the battles very well. I totally had a different picture in my head of the type of man Ulysses S Grant was. In this account he was a strong military man but he was also a very strong family man and made sure to spend as much time with his family as possible, even  taking his son with him into battle. We never learn about the people when studying history in school, it is all dates, battles and proclamations.

The story is also relevant today as we still are facing civil right issues so many years later. There are lessons to learn from out past, important lessons. Tolerance, acceptance, respect, forgiveness, working together toward what is good for the many not just a few.

I look forward to more stories like this, shining light on important females in U.S. history.

just you and a friend4 STARFISH

Dollycas

Your Escape With A Good Book Travel Agent

About This Author

Jennifer Chiaverini lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. In addition to the sixteen volumes in the Elm Creek Quilts series and four books of quilt patterns inspired by the novels, she designs the Elm Creek Quilts fabric line from Red Rooster Fabrics. For more information about Jennifer, please visit her website at www.elmcreek.net .

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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