Posts Tagged ‘sarah mccoy’

the mapmaker's children

Source: Review copy from Crown
Rating:: ★★★★★

Today could not have meaning without the promise of ending.  Birth and death, beginning and ending — they were one in the universe’s memory.

But who would remember her tomorrow?

(from The Mapmaker’s Children, page 67)

Quick summary: Sarah McCoy’s latest novel, The Mapmaker’s Children, is a dual narrative whose threads are connected by two women struggling with the fact that they are unable to have children.  Eden Anderson in present-day New Charlestown, West Virginia, has moved away from the hubbub of Washington, D.C., in hopes of finally conceiving a child, but when that doesn’t pan out, she’s left with anger toward her husband, a dog she doesn’t want, and a mysterious porcelain doll head found in the root cellar.  In Civil War-era New Charleston, Sarah Brown, daughter of the abolitionist John Brown, aims to use her artistic talents for the Underground Railroad and find a greater purpose for her life since a husband and family are not an option.

Why I wanted to read it: I’ve loved McCoy’s writing since The Baker’s Daughter.

What I liked: McCoy is a word artist, and I loved this book from start to finish.  The pictures she paints with only a few words draw you into the characters’ worlds, and she’s one of only a few authors able to make the present-day storyline just as compelling as the historical one.  Eden’s relationships with Cleo and Cricket and Sarah’s relationships with Freddy and the rest of the Hill family are touching and show how families can be created in the most unexpected ways.  The mystery of the doll head and the history of the Underground Railroad enrich the story and beautifully connect the past and present narratives, and I appreciated the author’s note at the end where McCoy explains her inspiration for the novel and all the research involved.

What I disliked: Absolutely nothing!  The Mapmaker’s Children is another winner from McCoy!

Final thoughts: The Mapmaker’s Children is a beautifully written novel driven by heroines who are real in their emotions and their flaws, and McCoy brilliantly pulls Sarah Brown out of the shadows of history and brings her to life in full color.  Sarah and Eden are separated by more than a century, but their journeys toward love and family are universal.  McCoy is a master storyteller, and The Mapmaker’s Children is destined for my “Best of 2015” list!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour for The Mapmaker’s Children.  To follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received The Mapmaker’s Children from Crown for review.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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grand central

Source: Review copy from Berkley
Rating: ★★★★★

In those moments when she was alone, her body propped up in bed and a borrowed book she was using to study English on her lap, she saw her mother saying good-bye for the last time through a forced smile, and her father still holding on to her bag for a few more moments.  She didn’t want to look at those horrible photos in the paper and believe her parents could be amongst the piles off bodies or reduced to dark ash.  She wanted instead to look at the family photograph that sat on her nightstand and believe that they were still just as she had left them.  Father in his dark brown overcoat and stylish fedora, and Mother always with something warm and sweet in her hands.

(from “Going Home” by Alyson Richman, Grand Central, page 27)

Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion is a collection of 10 short stories that at some point bring readers to Grand Central Terminal in New York City on the same day in September 1945.  The stories are set shortly after the end of World War II, when refugees were creating new lives in America and soldiers were making their way home.  When I saw the list of authors and stories in this collection, I definitely couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read it.

  • “Going Home” by Alyson Richman (The Lost Wife)
  • “The Lucky One” by Jenna Blum (Those Who Save Us)
  • “The Branch of Hazel” by Sarah McCoy (The Baker’s Daughter)
  • “The Kissing Room” by Melanie Benjamin (The Aviator’s Wife)
  • “I’ll Be Seeing You” by Sarah Jio (Blackberry Winter)
  • “I’ll Walk Alone” by Erika Robuck (Call Me Zelda)
  • “The Reunion” by Kristina McMorris (Bridge of Scarlet Leaves)
  • “Tin Town” by Amanda Hodgkinson (22 Britannia Road)
  • “Strand of Pearls” by Pam Jenoff (The Kommandant’s Girl)
  • “The Harvest Season” by Karen White (The Time Between)

I don’t usually read short stories because I often feel like they end before the story takes off, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself satisfied by every one of these stories.  I couldn’t put this book down, and while I liked some stories more than others, in the week since I finished it, I still can’t decide which story was my favorite.

These stories are all unique in their subject matter, from a Holocaust survivor trying to get on with his life after losing his wife and daughters to a female pilot struggling with a different sort of grief and guilt, from a woman who dreads her soldier husband’s return to a young girl leaving her home in England to start a new life with her mother and GI husband in America.  Another story follows a young girl who travels alone from Shanghai to New York City to reunite with her father only to learn he’s not the man she thought he was, and Sarah McCoy lets readers know what happened to Hazel from The Baker’s Daughter, who joined the Lebensborn program.

Grand Central seems to perfectly capture the postwar atmosphere in a big city, with the chaos in the train station and the roller coaster of emotions within each character.  The changes in society, especially in regards to women and their romantic relationships and career aspirations, also feature prominently in some of these stories.  I was impressed not only by the character development in these stories but also by the ways in which the characters crossed paths with one another, which emphasizes how well this collection is structured.  If you love novels set during World War II or have loved novels by these authors in the past, you’ll definitely want to get your hands on a copy.

war challenge with a twist

Book 16 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 17 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received Grand Central from Berkley 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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Reba’s hand lifted off the page.  This was more interesting than expected.  She tried to keep a neutral tone.  “Were you a Nazi?”

“I was German,” replied Elsie.

“So you supported the Nazis?”

“I was German,” Elsie repeated.  “Being a Nazi is a political position, not an ethnicity.  I am not a Nazi because I am German.”

(from The Baker’s Daughter, page 52)

The Baker’s Daughter is, hands-down, the best book I’ve read so far this year, and I am confident that it will be on my “best of” list for 2012.  I have read numerous novels in recent months that shift back and forth between the present and World War II, and most times I prefer the storyline set during the war.  While I felt the same way with The Baker’s Daughter at first, by the time I finished I felt that Sarah McCoy had expertly connected the past and the present.

The Baker’s Daughter focuses on two women from different eras, both of whom know hardship and heartache and are trying to find themselves.  In 2007, Reba Adams is a reporter trying to forget her past.  She left her mother and older sister behind in Virginia and headed to El Paso, wanting to escape the truth about her Vietnam vet father, his suicide, and its aftermath.  She reinvents herself with strangers, and when the lies escape her lips, she almost believes them.  She is engaged to a border patrol guard, Riki Chavez, but she doesn’t let him see her true self and wears his ring around her neck because she can’t seem to commit.

While writing a Christmas-themed story, she ends up at Elsie’s German Bakery looking for a quote about a traditional German Christmas, but the bakery’s owner, 79-year-old Elsie (Schmidt) Meriwether only remembers the difficult Christmases during World War II, when her family was separated and food was scarce.  Reba asks about a picture of a younger Elsie with her mother, asks Elsie to tell her about that Christmas in Garmisch, Germany, in 1944, a night in which 16-year-old Elsie attends a Nazi Christmas Eve party with SS Lieutenant Colonel Josef Hub, who that night asks her to marry him.  Elsie is overwhelmed by the entire evening; Josef’s sleazy friend, Major Kremer, hits on her, she tries champagne for the first time, she receives a marriage proposal from a man almost twice her age, and she is captivated by a young Jewish boy from the Dachau concentration camp who the Nazis get to sing for the occasion — the same Jewish boy who turns up on the doorstep of the Schmidt Bakery later that night.

I was instantly captivated by Elsie’s story, and McCoy does a brilliant job setting the scene.  I felt like I was in the bakery, with the smells of the dough, the brick oven, and Elsie’s fear in the air.  McCoy perfectly captures the frustrations of the Germans as the war nears the end; they are hungry, scared to say the wrong thing with the Gestapo always watching, and torn between their love for their country and their disillusionment with the politics of the Reich.  This patriotism and confusion are exemplified by Elsie, as she accepts Josef’s proposal for the protection it offers not because she loves him, and especially by Elsie’s sister, Hazel, who is a resident of the Lebensborn program and has given birth to twins for the Fatherland, and one of the infants appears not to be a perfect Aryan.  McCoy also gets into the heads of some of the minor characters as well, particularly Josef and Riki, juxtaposing one’s struggles with Nazi ideology with the other’s involvement in the border wars between the U.S. and Mexico as he questions immigration laws even while he enforces them.

I didn’t expect The Baker’s Daughter to be such a complex novel that covers so much ground, from mothers and daughters and relationships between sisters to the hardships of war and the battles we fight internally.  McCoy deftly moves between the past and the present and mixes things up a bit with letters and e-mails between the characters, but never does the reader feel lost.  Even the secondary characters are complicated and intriguing, which can be difficult to pull off.  Normally I finish these types of novels believing that the story set in the present could have been removed without readers noticing, but The Baker’s Daughter is a perfectly crafted novel in which Elsie’s past plays into Reba’s present and both are important to the story.  But if that’s not enough of a recommendation, let me tell you that several recipes from Elsie’s German Bakery are featured at the end of the book.  The Black Forest Cake and Cinnamon Rolls sound delicious.  I should have baked them first and ate while reading!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the blog tour for The Baker’s Daughter. To follow the tour, click here.

Book 5 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Baker’s Daughter from Crown for review. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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