I recently listened to two very different Historical Fiction Books. From 1918 in Philadelphia during the Spanish Flu epidemic, I traveled to the USSR for Our Woman in Moscow, dealing with spying during the cold war. Both enjoyable in their own way.
Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams, Narrated by Nicola Barber and Cassandra Campbell
Expected publication: June 1st 2021 by HarperAudio, William Morrow
4 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Our Woman in Moscow is loosely based on the Cambridge Spy Ring that passed along government secrets to the Soviet Union before many of them defected to USSR. I don’t normally read spy novels, but this had a very different take on these stories. This is the story of sisters Ruth and Iris Macalister, their life, their choices and the consequences of those choices. Ruth was a former model who is living in New York in 1952. Her sister Ruth is married to ex-diplomat and communist Sasha Digby. The Digbys and their 3 children live in USSR. When Ruth and her aunt both get postcards from Iris asking Ruth to come and help her with a risky pregnancy, Iris knows she has to go and help, she is also sure that something is wrong.
This story is told in alternating chapters by the two sisters with the occasional chapter written by a KGB agent in Moscow. It also alternates between three different times – 1940, 1948 & 1952. Through the past storylines we find out how Sasha met Iris and what kind of person he really is. When war breaks out in Europe, Ruth heads home to New York, but Iris stays and marries Sasha, having his children and traveling around Europe to his various postings. When the war ends, Sasha defects to Russia and Iris goes with him. When Ruth decides to “rescue” her sister and family, she meets up with Sumner Fox. He is an FBI agent and he accompanies Ruth posing as her husband. This book has some very strong female characters which is what I have come to expect from Beatriz Williams. Because the story is spread out over twelve years, the reader gets to know the sisters well. All is not what it appears in this story and there are some twists and surprises along with some suspense and tense moments. It is a well written story with a lot of detail. Unfortunately, the amount of detail, did bog this story down for me at times. It is obvious the author did a lot of research on the Cambridge spy ring to make this story realistic. If you enjoy historical fiction and stories about characters and events that have almost been forgotten, then you will enjoy this story.
Nicola Barber and Cassandra Campbell narrated this story with expression, emotion, and great voices. The pacing was well done and their inflection added the suspense, excitement and tension where it was needed. An excellent performance that I recommend. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book upon request. The rating and opinions shared are my own.
The Orphan Collector by Ellen Marie Wiseman, Rachel Botchan (Narrator)
Published July 28th 2020 by Kensington Books, August 4th 2020 by Recorded Books
4 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Reading a book about the Spanish Flu in 1918 was probably not the best choice during the Covid Pandemic, but it gives me hope that things will return to almost normal soon. This story centres on Pia Lange, a thirteen year old girl of German descent. She is living in the slums of Philadelphia with her mother and twin infant brothers, while her father in fighting in Europe. When her mother succumbs of the flue, Pia needs to do what she can to find food for her brothers. She puts them in an enclosed area so they can’t hurt themselves while she heads off to see what she can find. While she is out, she collapses, also having contracted the flu. She is taken to the hospital to recover and when she is discharged several days later, she heads to her apartment to see if her brothers are okay. They are gone and she doesn’t know what happened to them. The readers do, but I do not want to spoil the story. Pia is taken to an orphanage, where she tries to escape. Will she find her brothers? Is her father alive and on his way home?
This is the third book I have read by Ellen Marie Wiseman, and I will now read whatever she writes. She does an amazing job with historical fiction and personalizing the stories so the reader comes to care deeply about them and their outcome. Pia is sure her brothers are alive, but she has not idea where to search. She doesn’t give up and continues to find people to help her search. The characters in this story are well developed and it is easy to develop feeling toward them. I was upset with the way some of the nuns treated the orphans and the nurse that comes and takes orphans to homes is very suspect to me. She was always short with everyone and in a rush. She didn’t like Pia at all, and I didn’t understand why. This story had my emotions all over the place. Being an orphan in 1918 was very difficult with orphan trains, children being sold to rich families and kids living as indentured servants all occurred at some point in this story. I was cheering for Pia to find her brothers and become an independent woman. The one part of the story that I didn’t care for as much was that of Bernice. She was a bigot who thought “the foreigners” shouldn’t be getting care, or jobs etc. at the expense of the Americans. She does some terrible things, but some of them turn out well. This was the mystery in the story which was okay, but wasn’t really necessary. The Orphan Collector is filled with the resilience of the human spirit. It reminds us that there were pandemics before us and the people survived using little medicine, but following recommendations. Many survived, many did not. It’s a remarkable story of determination against all odds, a story where fiction meets stark reality. Overall, I enjoyed this emotional story. I recommend this one if you enjoy Historical Fiction told through characters that will become real to you as you read. The audiobook was narrated by Rachel Botchan. This is the first book I have listened to that she has performed and I enjoyed her expression, emotion, accents and intonation. A well done audio performance.