Book Reviews — Strong Women!

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Ellen Meister’s LOVE SOLD SEPARATELY

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).

 

THE TESTAMENTS

Wow! . . . just wow.  Margaret Atwood’s THE TESTAMENTS is powerful, well written, scary, but hopeful and satisfying!  I read it in less than two days, finishing just before bed, and I awoke from a dream in which I kicked open a door to rescue a young woman from a rough man. I seldom remember dreams, but this was a moving book.

 I have a no-spoilers rule foTr myself, so am reluctant to reveal too much about the important aspects of the three threads of the plot, just that they do not disappoint.  A bit of wisdom, “once a judge, always a judge” and the “mills . . .  grind slowly but . . . exceeding small.” A bit of comfort, “The minor infirmities of age.  I hope you will live long enough to experience them.”  I was tickled to recognize a pattern in the names of the wedding arrangers, “Aunt Lorna, Aunt Sara Lee, and Aunt Betty” and the offered name, Aunt Maybelline, but it took TIME Magazine’s excellent interview to alert me to the Schlafly Cafe.  I admired this masterful bit of indirect permission, “You are strong.  Strength is a gift.  Gifts should be employed.” 

The teacher in me agrees that “the young are idealistic, have an underdeveloped sense of their own mortality, and . . . an exaggerated thirst for justice.” We’ve seen this in young activists, and I applaud them for their efforts.   

Michele Richardson

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

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”

Jojo Moyes 

THE GIVER OF STARS

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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Books and Reviews — Retirement Avocation

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I am luxuriating in the broad margins of my retired life, in awe of the me that could teach six classes a day and complete six errands on the way home.  I recall warning students with a notice on the board to “Be considerate.  Your tired teachers were at parent conferences until 9 p.m. last night,” and with their help making it through the day’s classes.  One wag snuck up and added, “Teachers be nice to students.  We have been dealing with tired, cranky teachers all day.”  I have fond memories of those students, but love my status as human be-ing rather than do-ing.  My last week, I raised a fist to declare, “as God is my witness, I’ll never set my alarm for 5 a.m. again,” and my first period students applauded . . . 7:25 a.m. is too early to start school. 

I do give a storytelling workshop every spring for MOAEYC Early Childhood educators, and get some exercise and crafting in at the Y, but my main avocation now is what delighted me during all those summer vacations — reading!  I have also been writing reviews for those I love, on Goodreads, Bookbub, NetGalley, and (until recently) Amazon.  (Their policy now is to only allow reviews from those who spend $50/year on “non-promotional” items, whatever that is.  Their sandbox, their rules. Bah, humbug!)

I will be posting some of my reviews here, beginning with a few of the more recent ones, and I encourage others to write reviews also.  It’s a way to let authors know they are appreciated and help ensure there will be more of the books we love.  

 

Bruce Coville’s Unicorn Chronicles

I thoroughly enjoyed the Full Cast Audio performance of Bruce Coville’s Unicorn Chronicles.  It’s a splendid tale, complex, with compelling characters, and the drama is so well done! Even the credits at the end are presented in an interesting way. ❤  There are three additional short stories, “After the Third Kiss,” “The Guardian of Memory,” and “The Boy With Silver Eyes,” which helped ease the pain of separation at the end of the saga. I loved the world of Luster. 

 

Victoria Thompson’s CITY OF SCOUNDRELS 

captured my full attention and wouldn’t let go.  Cheating a widow of her livelihood is low, as is selling shoddy goods to the army, and that’s just the beginning of why “they had it coming.”  Justice comes in many guises, and it’s fascinating to follow the workings of a successful con done for a good cause.  There are nerve-wracking moments also, at the mercy of evil, greedy persons or facing the less personal but deadly flu virus and war.  Love, honor, concern for others are the antidotes . . . of which we are in need.  Elizabeth might be a “counterfeit lady” but she’s a genuine good person, as are her co-conspirators.  I’d join in, if I thought I had the talent.  Meanwhile, I hope to read more wonderful books in this series.  Thought to ponder:  “When she became a wife, a woman gave up all rights . . .” Scary!    Book 3 of a series . . .and they just keep getting better!

 

Julia Spencer-Fleming’s HID FROM OUR EYES 

The tri-part plot 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. 

 

Homicidal Holidays

Holiday . . . Cheer?  From Groundhog’s Day to Christmas, there are multiple ways to go astray, make trouble, get in trouble, and face justice.  I enjoyed reading favorite authors’ work and meeting new ones.  I confess to a special liking for the four-legged accomplices, cat, groundhog, tamandua, even the occasional toad.

 

BEATING ABOUT THE BUSH  by M. C. Beaton

I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure with Agatha Raisin and associates.  Agatha may have been upstaged by Wizz-Wazz the brave, loyal, cranky, smelly donkey, but in true Agatha fashion, she makes the best of every opportunity.  There are mysteries to solve, and mistreated people (and donkey) to stand up for, and an environment to protect.  Electric cars are only as good as their batteries, and a longer-lasting one would increase range of car, but something is amiss. Agatha is called in to project the factory from industrial espionage and sabotage, but all is not as it seems. Agatha, AKA the donkey lady puts all her skills to work in the “Wizz-Wazz is innocent!” campaign.  How could she not?  The adorable, cranky donkey clearly loves and trusts Agatha — kindred spirits?  This is one of my favorites in this series, #30, but you don’t have to read in order.

 

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