by Patricia Reis
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Pub Date 10 Oct 2023 | Archive Date 09 Oct 2023
In this lyrical historical fiction with alternating points of view, a repressed woman begins an ancestral quest through the prairies of Iowa, awakening family secrets and herself, while in the late 1800s, a repressed ancestor, Tante Kate, creates those secrets.
As Van Reinhardt clears out her dead father’s belongings, she comes across hints of an unsettling family history, along with a request penned by her father prior to his death that sends her on a genealogical quest. Examining a 1900 family portrait of her German immigrant ancestors, Van curiosity grows about one of the children portrayed there.
In the 1870s, Kate is a German immigrant newly arrived in America with only her brother as family. Life changes for Kate when she and her brother split. When she returns, armed with a secret, nothing is the same, for her or her brother. Together they try to forge a life working for farmers in southwestern Iowa and at Kate’s urging, her brother takes the farmer’s daughter as his wife. And as that family grows, Kate becomes Tante Kate, isolated and separate from the rest of the family—almost a servant—not even appearing in the family portrait.
Van revisits the town and the farm of her ancestors to discover calamitous events in probate records, farm auction lists, asylum records and lurid obituaries, hinting at a history far more complex and tumultuous than she had expected. But the mystery remains, until she chances upon a small book, sized for a pocket—Tante Kate’s secret diary—that provides the missing piece.
Van revisits the town and the farm of her ancestors to discover calamitous events in probate records, farm auction lists, asylum records and lurid obituaries, hinting at a history far more complex and tumultuous than she had expected. But the mystery remains, until she chances upon a small book, sized for a pocket—Tante Kate’s secret diary—that provides the missing piece. Unsettled delivers what DNA analysis and Ancestry.com cannot.
Using memory, imagination and heart, Van constructs her ancestral narrative, uncovers the secrets that have kept her from the truth, mending the tears in her family story and her own life.
“One chapter to the next feels like walking, step by step, into a haunted house. A great read: Once you start, it’s hard to stop. Even when you meet a ghost.” —Michael Lesy, author of Wisconsin Death Trip
“Unsettled is an old-fashioned novel, filled with characters as familiar as family pictures, as touching and as terrifying. Reis writes with assurance about the kinds of secrets that destroyed families generations ago — and maybe still do.” —Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of Deep End of the Ocean
2023 Marketing Plan: Unsettled
Publication Date: Oct 10
- Regional Tours in October in Maine (Portland is author’s hometown) and New Hampshire as well as Midwest tour in early November to Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa where the novel takes place. Focused on bookstores, historical societies, and libraries
- Regional Publicity and Media Interviews centered in Maine
- Social Media Campaign, targeting bookstagrammers, booktokers, and Facebook users with giveaways on Goodreads and Instagram
- Partnerships with genealogy and senior groups like AARP
- Shelf Talkers available for stores
- Inclusion in NEBA 2023 Holiday Catalog as featured title
- Author Zoom Talks to University and Writing Programs
- Writing Magazines features
- Author Excerpts, Essays, and Talks on: Family History recreated as Historical Fiction, Writing Historical Fiction, Transgenerational Ghosting, Ancestry and Genealogical Quests
- Book Club Outreach; reading group discussion questions printed in book
- Library Market outreach, ad in Library Journal
- Trade Advertising in Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness
- Trade Reviews pursued in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Shelf Awareness
- Galleys Available for sales force, major media, regional media, social media influencers, influential authors, booksellers and librarians; digital galleys also available for download through Edelweiss and NetGalley
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 20 members
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Unsettled by Patricia Reis is well named. Van Reinhardt is a history professor whose parents were emotionally unavailable. Her mother was mentally ill, or addicted and her father, a geology professor, was an alcoholic who withdrew after her mother's death. After his death, she finds a note from him asking her to research his family in Iowa.
The quest fascinates her as she uncovers the story of her ancestors. The reader is brought along as she learns secrets lost to her father.
The book is well written and keeps the reader engaged unpeeling layers of the past with Van.
Unsettled is, in many respects, historical fiction at its most rich and most charming. The Reinhardts are gorgeously rendered, the prose intimate and nostalgic, their story prairie gothic at its finest. It paints a conflicted yet complete picture through interwoven points of view and Tante Kate’s journal entries, with best intentions twisted to devastating results and legacies of confusion.
This should, in theory, be the value of a modern timeline; to depict the way entire lives are reduced to black-and-white print, incomplete and sometimes misleading. A brilliant concept. Unfortunately, it stumbles in its execution; the present timeline is the weakest aspect of the novel, and serves as a jarring contrast to its expertly written counterpart. It is riddled with cliches ranging from memories said to roll in flashes like a b-movie and written-out song lyrics to the more uncomfortable, like the protagonist of marginally indigenous ancestry being called Pocahontas because she braids her hair. Van’s internal monologue is unconvincing, her reactions banal and contrived, the Iowan residents trite, the dialogue inauthentic and stilted, the journal entries which might have served as a tether to the past timeline bland rehashes of what’s just happened. It feels like an entirely different book written with vastly different skill, and gives the novel a disjointed feel, neither resonating effectively nor cohesively tying the narrative together.
It bears repeating that the historical timeline is exceptional. Richly imagined, its descriptions beautiful and immersive, and the characters gorgeously rendered, the prose & atmosphere of Unsettled is a resplendent experience that is dampened by a painfully written second narrative, made all the more frustrating in its stark contrast to its remarkable complementing timeline.
I enjoyed following Van’s quest to learn more about her family’s history. I especially enjoyed the development of Letty’s story and how Van was able to relate it to her relationship with her parents.
I received a free Advanced Reading Copy via NetGalley in exchange for a complete and honest review.
One of the best books I've read in a long while!!
I really liked this book! The story switches points of view and time periods, which I normally find a deterrent, but this story fascinated me from the start, and I really enjoyed following along with Van as she uncovers layers of her family’s history. I identified somewhat with Van’s circumstances, especially her relationship with her father, and how that influences her relative lack of close friends or romantic partners. I enjoyed seeing the development of her character as she makes peace with past relationships, mends a current one, and allows herself to consider letting new people into her life. The author references the term ‘rural gothic’ and I feel that to be a very apt description of the events within the earlier timeline in the book. I found those parts of the book interesting, but mostly in the ways that they supported and connected with the later, more current timeline.
I especially liked all of the historical tidbits the author packed in, from Taliesin and the House on the Rock, to European settlers in the Midwest, to the voyaguers of the North American fur trade. This story is packed with delicious morsels for history lovers, any of which the reader could spend hours going down rabbit holes to research on their own.
4.5 stars, but I’m rounding up to 5
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.