Book Review: In the Land of the Long White Clouds

 

“That is to say that the land revealed itself to the first travelers, who came by canoe from Polynesia to New Zealand, in the same way. That explains New Zealand’s Maori name— Aotearoa, ‘Land of the Long White Cloud.’”

The adventure of colonizing New Zealand by Great Britain is detailed in this first novel of the series by Sarah Lark.  Following the migration of two very different women with a common goal, one aristocrat who is on her way to marry a New Zealand sheep baron’s son and a governess escorting orphans in order to join a man she has never met but plans to marry, the novel builds into a multi-generational epic that shows the beauty and the struggles in the early years of New Zealand’s settlement.

Daughter of a wealthy sheep breeder, Gwyneira Silkham is thrilled to be off on an adventure and certain that her husband, the heir to Kiward Station, will be just like the heroes of the penny dreadfuls her family disapproves of her reading.  Governess Helen Davenport has been corresponding with a gentleman farmer who is searching for a wife.  In order to gain passage to New Zealand, she agrees to escort orphans that are being sent to homes as domestic servants.  The two very different women meet while onboard the ship bound for their new home and develop an unlikely friendship.

When their arrival shows them that nothing is what they imagined, their friendship will carry them through the trials and the adventures in their new homeland.  It will be filled with romance, tragedy, and the dilemma of relations between the new settlers and the native Maori people. Lark follows the lives of not only the two women but also all six orphan girls. 

While enjoyable and interesting, there are times that it seems unbelievable that so many coincidences would tie together so perfectly.  Also, while I enjoyed the glimpse into the history of colonial New Zealand, there is criticism from some more knowledgeable than I that it is not accurate. The translation led to some incongruous moments where the currency isn’t accurate (use of dollars, etc instead of the accurate shillings) and use of words that are more modern than accurate to the period. I would recommend a more accurate, nonfiction title if you want to learn the accurate history, but I would also say to enjoy this for the story and the adventure.

I am looking forward to continue the rest of the series and discover where the characters go and how their lives develop.  What are other historical series that you have enjoyed?

Book Review: The Midwife of Hope River

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I just finished The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman for my book club.  Set in Appalachia during the Great Depression, the story follows midwife Patience Murphy.  She struggles to care for her patience during a time when money is scarce and childbirth is more than uncomfortable and often deadly.  The story begins by setting up the history of Patience who is hiding her own secrets from her life before moving to the small town in Appalachia that she serves.

I generally love historical fiction and enjoyed this book as well.  Harman is a little heavy handed with the history lessons at the beginning of the story but gradually, the characters take over and the story becomes enjoyable.  While some characters become more than they first appear, there are quite a few filler characters that are two-dimensional and stereotyped.  There are the ignorant racist, Ku Klux Klan wannabes, the wise old black midwife, the wife beater, and the grouchy farmer next door.

If you enjoyed books like Where the Heart Is or Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, you should enjoy this book as well.  It was an enjoyable and mostly light read.