Posts Tagged ‘kate kerrigan’

fall of poppies

Source: Review copy from William Morrow
Rating: ★★★★★

We were a wounded people — walking wounded — with some of us more scarred inside than our exteriors revealed. Who and what was going to glue us together again?


(from “After You’ve Gone” by Evangeline Holland in Fall of Poppies)

Quick Summary: Fall of Poppies is a collection of stories by nine contemporary best-selling authors all set on or near Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. Each of these stories beautifully tell a tale of love and hope, but also loss and pain. These stories detail the ways in which World War I, or the Great War, forever upended lives. From a young girl who finds love while helping create facial masks for wounded soldiers to an airman whose fear of loneliness prompts him to make a spontaneous offer right before going into combat, Fall of Poppies shows the impact of war, both the horrifying and the uplifting.

Why I wanted to read it: I’m drawn to stories set during the Great War, and I’ve enjoyed novels by several of these authors in the past.

The Stories: “The Daughter of Belgium” by Marci Jefferson * “The Record Set Right” by Lauren Willig * “All for the Love of You” by Jennifer Robson * “After You’ve Gone” by Evangeline Holland * “Something Worth Landing For” by Jessica Brockmole * “Hour of the Bells” by Heather Webb * “An American Airman in Paris” by Beatriz Williams * “The Photograph” by Kate Kerrigan * “Hush” by Hazel Gaynor

What I liked: I loved all of the stories in this collection, and it was hard to choose my favorites. The settings are varied, including an abandoned hospital in Belguim, an estate in England, the sky above the trenches, and various places in France, and the characters are all unique and memorable in their personalities and circumstances. This variety, coupled with the ability of each of these authors to quickly pull readers into their stories, made me want to read the entire book in one sitting but also made me glad that the chaos of daily life forced me to savor these stories over a longer period.

What I disliked: I only wish that I could’ve spent more time in each of these stories to see how the characters fared years after the war.

Final thoughts: People have a tendency to remember exactly where they were during important dates in history, and Fall of Poppies shows where the characters in each story were — both physically and emotionally — when the Great War ended. In the aftermath of the war, countless people wondered how to move forward and rebuild their lives after they lost so much, but these stories show that even in the midst of all the grief, there was a sense of relief and hope. At a time when I’m culling tons of books from my library and keeping very few new arrivals in the interests of space, Fall of Poppies has earned a permanent spot on the shelves and likely will be re-read at some point. Definitely a contender for my “Best of 2016” list!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the Fall of Poppies tour.  Click here to follow the tour.

Disclosure: I received Fall of Poppies from William Morrow for review.

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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land of dreams

Source: Review copy from William Morrow
Rating: ★★★★☆

I couldn’t paint.  I had nothing to say.  My art had left me and all I could do was capture the story behind the eyes of a pretty girl.  Somehow, in the past few weeks, I had become silenced.  My voice was gone and I was becoming ever less certain that it would return.

(from Land of Dreams, page 165)

Quick summary: Land of Dreams is the last installment in Kate Kerrigan’s Ellis Island trilogy that follows headstrong Ellie Hogan, who has left Ireland for good to forge a new life in New York City.  Set in 1942, Ellie has become a well-known artist and is raising her adopted sons, Leo and Tom, on Fire Island off the Long Island shore.  She has settled into the quiet life of an artist, but all that changes when 16-year-old Leo runs away from his boarding school to Hollywood to become an actor.  It’s not long before Ellie, Tom, and her old friend Bridie have forged a new life in Los Angeles.  Ellie has lost her creativity, and after the loss of two husbands, she thinks her desire to love and be loved has left her as well.  Amidst the fame and greed of Hollywood, the Japanese internment camps, and memories of the life she left behind, Ellie embarks on a friendship with a Polish composer, Stan, and puts her dreams on the sidelines to give her son a chance to live his own.

Why I wanted to read it: I really enjoyed the first two books in the trilogy, Ellis Island and City of Hope, and I wanted to find out how Kerrigan concludes Ellie’s story.

What I liked: Land of Dreams can be read as a standalone novel.  Of course, you’ll care more about Ellie if you read all three books in order, but Kerrigan provides enough back story so you won’t feel too lost — which was good for me since it’s been a year since I read the previous books, and I needed a quick update.  I love the character of Ellie.  She has gone through so much in her 42 years, but she has always managed to pull herself up, adapt, and move forward.  Having long wanted to be a mother, Ellie would do anything for Tom and Leo, putting them first in all things.  The first-person narrative helps emphasize how much she has endured and how much she has sacrificed, and Kerrigan does a great job ensuring that readers understand Ellie, even when they don’t agree with her.  Hollywood in the 1940s is an intriguing setting, but Kerrigan doesn’t let readers forget that there is a war going on.  The fighting may be happening elsewhere, but the tensions and the animosity toward anyone with a connection to Germany and Japan, however slight, is very real and very dangerous.  However, Kerrigan also doesn’t let the war take center stage.

What I disliked: The only thing I didn’t like was having to say goodbye to Ellie when I turned the last page.

Final thoughts: Ellie’s fierce love for her children shines through, and the same take-charge attitude and adaptability that enabled her to survive hunger, build successful businesses, and keep going after tough losses help her see through the glitz and glamor of Hollywood.  Even while stepping aside to let her son shine, Ellie cannot completely hide in the shadows, and the relationships she forges in Hollywood make her realize she still has much to learn about life, love, and creativity.  Land of Dreams is a satisfying conclusion to the Ellis Island trilogy, which centers on love and loss, family, the immigrant experience, and the American Dream.  The trilogy spans the years of the Irish War of Independence, the Great Depression, and World War II and follows a woman who was truly ahead of her time.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour for Land of Dreams.  To follow the tour, click here.

war challenge with a twist

Book 23 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 23 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received Land of Dreams from William Morrow for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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city of hope

Source: Review copy from William Morrow
Rating: ★★★★☆

As I walked I breathed in the wet, muggy air and remembered where I was: New York.  Not Ireland, where the air was fresh and sharp, and filled with the waft of turf fires and wet grass and mint.  I brought myself back to my previous time here, full of purpose and determination.  This time was the same.

(from City of Hope)

City of Hope is the second book in a trilogy by Kate Kerrigan (which began with Ellis Island) about a headstrong Irish woman torn between her home in Ireland and New York, the city that enabled her to emerge from poverty, experience freedom, and take control of her life.  The novel opens in 1934, and Ellie Hogan is a successful businesswoman in her small Irish town, but the sudden death of her husband and childhood sweetheart, John, prompts her to leave it all behind and rush back to New York.

Ellie expects to return to the glittery, bustling, vibrant New York she left behind 10 years ago, but the Great Depression has taken its toll.  She is unable to lose herself in fine clothes and fancy parties when the streets are cluttered with the homeless, remembering the days when she and John had no money and little to eat, which is why she went to New York the first time as a maid to a spoiled, wealthy socialite.  Ellie needs to find a purpose, something to distract her from her grief, and she soon finds that helping the poor — many of whom were well-to-do before losing everything they had when the stock market crashed — is her calling.

Using her determination and her business acumen, Ellie feeds and shelters these men, women, and children, and in return, builds friendships and community.  Ellie must deal with men upset that their wives earn more than they do, figure out her feelings when someone from her past shows up at her door, and navigate both the rise of the labor unions and the mob.

Ellie is such an intriguing character, even though I find her annoying at times, especially her penchant for running away from her feelings.  But I still can’t help but like her determination and her courage.  Even when I didn’t agree with her decisions, Kerrigan made it possible for me to understand her.  I also loved the assortment of characters, from the warm and loving Maidy and the sharp-tongued Bridie to the strong and caring handyman, Matt.  Kerrigan makes all of them in their varied circumstances feel real, and she also brings Depression-era New York City to life.

Kerrigan provides enough information from the first book to make City of Hope a stand-alone novel, but I think readers should start with Ellis Island to really understand Ellie.  Readers who enjoy immigrant stories will want to give these novels a try, as they show what life was like for people trying to achieve the American Dream and personalize the experience by focusing on a woman ahead of her time.  Ellie is a complex character, and you never know what she’s going to do next, so I can’t wait to see how her story plays out in the final book.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on City of Hope tour.  To follow the tour, click here.

Book 3 for the Ireland Reading Challenge

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 24 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received City of Hope from William Morrow for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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ellis island

Source: Review copy from Harper
Rating: ★★★★☆

Not indeed that I had been planning to do anything in particular — but nonetheless, I realized how much I had been enjoying the anonymity that New York afforded me.  While I had been living my life free from the microscopic study of curious neighbors since I left Ireland, I only became aware of my freedom in that moment. (from Ellis Island, page 249)

Set in the 1920s, Ellis Island is the story of Ellie Hogan, a young woman who emigrates to New York City to escape the poverty of rural Ireland and work as a maid for a socialite in the hopes of earning enough money to pay for the surgery that will enable her husband to walk again.  Ellie has loved John Hogan since they were children, and when his involvement in the Irish Republican Army leaves him unable to work, she doesn’t think twice about taking matters into her own hands and taking up an old friend’s offer to bring her to America.

Ellie doesn’t want to be away from home for more than a year, just long enough to get her and John set for the future, but New York City opens up a whole new world for her.  The city offers freedom from her cold and disapproving parents, freedom from poverty, and an independence she could never know back home as a farmer’s wife.  She is introduced to modern conveniences like electricity, toasters, and warm showers.  She observes and then later enjoys the excesses of the wealthy and develops a love and appreciation for fine clothes, cosmetics, linens, and other material things.

When an affluent young man shows an interest in her, she begins to realize how far she has come.  But when circumstances send her back to Ireland (and John), she realizes how much she has changed and must choose between love and a world full of possibilities. Kate Kerrigan has created a believable heroine in Ellie.

She did an admirable thing, a selfless thing, in leaving behind everything she knew and everyone she loved to take care of her husband.  And one can understand how easy it might be to then become a bit selfish, having been given a taste of freedom and modernity.  However, as the story progressed, I grew tired of Ellie’s whining.  She had been luckier than many immigrants, and even though she was a hard worker, luck did play a role in her success overseas.  It was exasperating to see her place such a high value on material things, but Kerrigan did such a good job evolving Ellie’s character over the course of the book, that I couldn’t help but root for her even when I wanted to shake some sense into her.

Kerrigan also gives readers a good idea of what New York City and Ireland were like in the 1920s — New York City in a period of prosperity, and Ireland recovering from its War of Independence.  Given the way America and Ireland pulled so violently at Ellie, it’s not surprising they were more like characters than just settings.  Kerrigan made the people Ellie encountered in both countries seem real — from Isobel, the needy socialite, to Maidy and Paud, John’s aunt and uncle who adopted him when he was a child and basically adopted Ellie, too.  Even using the first-person narrative, Kerrigan was able to portray a cast of well-developed characters and rich landscapes.

Ellis Island is about one young woman’s immigrant experience and a testament to the American Dream, though I’m not sure the title is a good fit given that Ellis Island itself barely factors into the story.  Kerrigan paints a picture of New York City as a true melting pot and a land of plenty but also shows how hard it can be to leave home — even when a better life might be had elsewhere.  Ellis Island calls on readers to think about their priorities in life, whether where we come from makes us who we are, whether love really is all you need, and how we define and balance freedom, success, and home. Ellis Island is the first book in a trilogy.  Stay tuned for my review of the second book, City of Hope.

Book 2 for the Ireland Reading Challenge

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 23 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received Ellis Island from Harper for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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