Reading at a Social Distance

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Staying in, reading more, reviewing the books I love, arranging parking lot pickup of produce, and wearing a mask when I must go into the allergist’s or Costco.  Spring is happening despite our problems, and the birds, frogs and turtles continue doing Nature’s work.

I review on Goodreads, Bookbub, and NetGalley, but since Amazon is being silly about reviews, and I refuse to “pay to play” by buying more than I actually want to, I’ve started putting reviews here, no particular system, and (I hope) no spoilers.  Reading for pleasure is such a gift, and with so many good writers, I need never be bored.


Hid from our eyes 

The tri-part plot of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s HID FROM OUR EYES reminds me of a three-ring circus, or perhaps Flora Joy’s Trispective: the 3-n-1 Quilt, in which the picture changes with a change in viewer’s position.  I did have to remind myself which plot was which, but dates and clear writing helped.  At the end, I slapped my forehead with an “I should have seen that” reaction, clues there but not obvious, just as I like them.  

Besides the triple murders, decades apart, there are other issues to complicate life.  Caring for baby makes it hard to schedule work obligations, and the doctor suggests that the erratic routine and stress might be upsetting baby Ethan.  Perhaps the new intern, who brings her own problems, can help lighten Clare’s schedule?  In addition, the town is dealing with a proposal to eliminate the local police department, and there is pressure from wealthy, powerful persons to replace Russ as Chief, (just another example of the way the rich and powerful treat others as less important, disposable). Kevin’s back, bringing a new set of problems and a lawsuit from Hadley’s vicious ex. Most delightful, we get to see Margy as more than just Russ’s firebrand mother.

I love the twisty plot, the interactions of caring characters, the descriptions (I almost felt summer’s heat despite the cold and snow here in the “real” world).  I do not love cliffhanger endings.  If you don’t either, save the Epilogue to read when the next book comes out . . . already anticipating that happy event.

Lucy Burdette‘s THE KEY LIME CRIME is splendid!  The crime is only part of the story, as family and friends have equal importance in the plot, and the food adds so much “local flavor.”  (The cheese puff recipe looks almost easy enough for me).

Macabre murder, malicious vandalism, assault with pie . . . and a new mother-in-law for Haley. I did come to like Helen, but my favorite new character is T-Bone, the delightful and most helpful kitten, rescued by Miss Gloria.  (Is she really going to go on their honeymoon in the next book? If she does, who will care for all those pets? Time will tell. 😉  

A student once coined a slogan, “Drop Pies, not Bombs.”  We decided the pies would need parachutes to arrive in delicious condition and would be perfect overtures for peace.  I’ll add Key Lime Pie to the “must have” varieties. 

I loved the insights into Cooking with Love and the cooking school, not quite so in love with the idea of croissant corsages.  The quotes at the beginning of the chapters are insightful, but my favorite, timely offering is Haley’s “We should fight to the bitter end or die trying.”  Never, ever give up.


 If Escher Wrote Books

Like a circle in a spiral . . ., like a series of fun house mirrors, or perhaps like those Russian nesting dolls, Hank Phillippi Ryan’s THE FIRST TO LIE spun through layers of truth in a mystifying kaleidoscope of “what if” possibilities. I suspected many of the tricksters, and many more that weren’t, and was ambushed by some I never saw coming. Disguises rival Shakespeare’s plays, and moral dilemmas hark back to ethics discussions . . . is it ever moral to lie?  Do ends justify means?  It’s rare for a book to be both an escape from reality and an illumination of truth, but this one qualifies. “Lies have a complicated half-life.”

Don’t we all play roles in life?  Teacher self, party-goer self, church self, date self . . . but how far do we take it?   Can one lose oneself in the pretense?  I found myself thinking of those flip books with the pages cut in thirds, to switch heads, bodies, feet. I used various-colored post-its to highlight significant passages and distinguish characters.  My book is now a rainbow porcupine. 

I believe this book will speak to many people, on a deep and intimate level, exploring issues that affect us all. I don’t want to “spoil” with too many details, but this story mirrored friends’ experiences with fertility clinics, false promises given to the hopeful.  Boston’s snowy spring and car crashes awakened memories of a trip one spring break, surprised by the snow still on the ground and carrying the weight of a student’s fatal crash just a week before . . . so many links to real lives, so many details magnifying the theme of mirrors and deception.  I want to be in a book club to discuss every nuance, and I’ll be re-reading in August when the book comes out because, as a favorite professor said, “Any book worth reading is worth reading twice.”


My college drama professor told us that if there were anything else we could convince ourselves to do instead of acting, we should. The first pages of Ellen Meister’s LOVE SOLD SEPARATELY reminded me of his advice, as financial problems mount and Dana has lost her “day job” in retail.  Things look bleak, but best friend/agent Megan  arranges an audition at The Shopping Channel, something with which I am unfamiliar, but now feel I know a bit about.  The salary would solve so many problems, but a non-compete clause would mean giving up her theater group, Sweat City, but how can she let down her friends?  There are so many more complications, murder and mayhem, sabotage, intrigue and romance, but I won’t put “spoilers” here. 

I couldn’t put it down and at the end wished it could go on and on. I liked the characters and wanted more time with them.  I also appreciate the insight into the rewards for those called to be actors, getting lost in a character, using nervous energy to power the performance, working as a team.  The plot is rewardingly complex and the ending is satisfying.  I love when I think I know what’s coming, and then get a surprise twist.  

A bit of universal wisdom: “She needed this to be a mellow day at work.  But that wasn’t the way it went down.” (It never is . . . we used to pretend a lack of urgency to keep the school copier from messing up).

Crime Travel / edited by Barb Goffman 

Anthologies of short works are  wonderful “palate cleansers” between larger and sometimes heavier works and a way to discover new writers, after I’ve read my favorites.  I was going to name some favorites, but I can’t, as they were all so good!  I don’t want to give too much away, but I did enjoy the ghosts, the hard decision, and the guest appearance by a famous mystery writer. 
I read this over a few weeks and am now looking back with awe at the quality of the whole, with much to think about, much variety, a satisfying tally of wrongs set right, and overall a quality of writing far beyond the norm.   Even the physical package of the “tree book” pleases, lovely cover, perfect size, clear print . . . one could get spoiled by such attention to details. 

RESISTANCE WOMEN by Jennifer Chiaverini

Don’t ever get used to evil.  Don’t treat it as normal.  This was not an easy book to read at this time of escalating criminal malfeasance, but that makes it even more important a work.  I was reminded of Scheherazade, who couldn’t be happy and safe elsewhere when loved ones were in danger. There were echoes of READING LOLITA IN TEHERAN, as freedom, jobs, books were stripped away, and warnings “Where they burn books, in the end they will also burn people.”

A character says, “ . . . celebrate while we can.  What’s the alternative?” — fighting back . .
I had to take breaks, as when I read NIGHT, but their courage and loyalty is an example of the strength needed to combat evil.  Persist!  The more who join the resistance, even if we have to do it at a social distance right now, the more lives are saved. 

I knew of Martin Niemöller, but until I read Jennifer Chiaverini’s RESISTANCE WOMEN, I hadn’t heard of Mildred Fish Harnack.  Perhaps this book should be added to reading lists.  The author’s note says 9/16, her birthday, is celebrated in Wisconsin.

Annette Riggle Dashofy‘s UNDER THE RADAR kept me reading until 4 a.m. — yes, THAT good!  It’s twisty and full of conflicts and uncertainties, none of which will I spoil.  There are burglary, bullying, a blizzard, and bridal planning woes.  (Is there a word like “bridezilla” for the mother of?)  Oh, and there is news of a new half-brother, as well as serious questions about whom to trust, and a too-close-for-comfort election for coroner.  Is it any wonder my attempts to sleep failed?  Add to that a smoothly flowing writing style, which looks effortless, but we English teachers know is the result of careful revision and editing.  This book is a pleasure, the continuation of an excellent series, and there will be another soon. 

 (Purchased and read during Corona isolation closing of libraries — thank goodness for the invention of e-books!) 

ALL THE WAYS WE SAID GOOD-BYE  by White, Williams, and Willig

At first I resisted yet another book with multiple POVs and timelines, but then I fell right in.  It was surprisingly easy to follow, with clear labeling of each change, and sweet details tying them together, almost like the fade-out/fade-in of good cinema.  The reward, good characters and fascinating settings.  This is a book filled with courage, beauty, honor, sacrifice, and love and forgiveness, with mysteries to resolve and characters to love . . . and hate.  

Words of courage, for now and always:

“It’s nothing, it’s a raindrop in a thunderstorm.”

“It’s not nothing.  Not to those we save.  To them, it’s everything.”

“Don’t ever lose yourself thinking of the ones you couldn’t save.  Think instead of the ones you did.”

NO FIXED LINE by Dana Stabenow

Kate Shugak is a woman of courage, ready to stand up to “bad men” and fight for good, with courage to hope for better times, as she sees the younger generation in action, activism for good.

“The younger generation . . . Johnny and Van . . .weren’t buying houses, .. . believed in climate change, Medicare for All, dumping the Electoral College . . . voting.”

Not just the youngsters, either, the aunties hold things together. “Don’t mess with the aunties!”  Strong elders’ influence saves villages.
Dana Stabenow is also a woman of courage, willing to write about issues despite those who want dissenting voices silenced.  To stand up for right in compelling and rewarding fiction is brilliant! Powerful writing can make a difference, as did UNCLE TOM’S CABIN and GRAPES OF WRATH. Kate and Dana are an example to us all. 

“You can’t save them all, Kate.”
“No . . . more’s the pity, but I can save the two in front of me.”


The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek  by Michele Richardson

I was caught up in the action and conflict of this book, nesting comfortably out of winter weather, as the Pack Horse Librarians faced all the hazards.  I had heard of the blue people and was fascinated by explanations of (methemoglobinemia) lack of enzyme, otherwise healthy, undeserving of others’ fear and hatred.  “Colored” laws applied, and discrimination could turn deadly.  I was touched that Cussy and her father, each worried about dangers to the other, while each insisted on doing important work.  My heart warmed to the special folk who didn’t judge color.  

“Anyone knows a Kentucky man ain’t gonna let the wandering legs plant themselves anyplace other than here” reminded me of storyteller Stephen Hollen’s mountain tales.

Mention of a “children’s moon” in the daytime was sweet but sad. Hunger meant early bedtimes,  “That there were stores full of the cure for hunger kept me awake with . . . anger”



Very moving — I loved the sisterhood of horseback librarians, sticking up for each other and challenging the corrupt mine-owner and the restrictions of “woman’s place” and working, despite danger, to help others.  I cared about these women and the men who supported them and their work.  (I confess to a few tears, not a common reaction for me these days).  It started a bit slowly, but I’m glad I went back to it for a second look . . . another book with some moral ambiguity in the resolution — I suspect I’d have had more trouble debating right or wrong when younger. 

LOUISE’S CROSSING  by Sarah Shaber

Crossing the ocean in a welded, not riveted, Liberty ship with a full load of ammunition and other supplies for the Allied forces is a dangerous undertaking.  Add the discomfort of no heat in sub-zero weather, and throw in a possible murderer aboard, but with so much at stake, investigating takes a back seat to surviving the crossing.  This was an adventure I could not put down, as Louise Pearlie persists in her unauthorized search for justice.  

Sarah Shaber’s writing is clear and compelling, descriptions feel real, so real that I had to bundle up a bit from imagined cold and appreciate baths and plentiful food.  

Wisdom, “After allowing myself an extensive pity party, I pulled myself together . . . I would make the best of it.”  “I thought about my future.”   7th in the excellent series

The American Cafe  by Sara Sue Hoklotubbe

Sadie Walela, another fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into . . . good thing there are good people to help you through.  A lovely childhood dream, to own and work a small cafe, a timely opportunity to purchase and rename the Liberty Diner, a bonus discovery of a loyal, helpful group of Regulars who show up early to have coffee and help, how could that go wrong?  It can, with murder, gun threats, broken window, familial disputes, and a reluctant agreement to sub at the bank.  I bought a used copy because my library, having ordered it months ago, still didn’t have it.  It arrived days after mine (of course — I should have ordered sooner).  I couldn’t resist reading their fresh new copy, but I’ll be glad to have mine to keep.  This is second in a series, read out of order because of difficulty getting a copy.  I’m ready for a fifth, whenever that shall be.  ** I looked up Cherokee tear dresses — beautiful!




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