Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

Kathleen Rooney

29939353

This wonderful title character is the kind of person we all would like to know and would like to become. The setting is New Year’s Eve 1984, and 84-year-old Lillian Boxfish sets out to take a walk from her home to the site of a party given by a young friend of hers. Along the way, she visits various locations in Manhattan and relives various episodes in her long life. In her prime she was the highest paid woman advertising executive for R.H. Macy’s department store. She also wrote poetry. It all came to an end when she fell in love and married Max and had a child. Of course she lost her job because no one would hire a mother of a child. In what little time she had to herself, she continued to write freelance but it wasn’t the same.

Eventually the conflict between what she was and what she had became began to tell on her and her marriage.

This is a lovely story, lovingly told. I like the writer’s voice and the astringent voice of the character. No one was going to tell Lillian Boxfish what she could do, whether it is live life a certain way or walk around Manhattan on her own on New Year’s Eve.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Rules of Magic

Alice Hoffman

The Rules of Magic: A Novel by [Hoffman, Alice]

Thanks to Netgalley for ARC.

Three magical children escape the oppressive life under their parents to spend the summer with their aunt Isabelle in her home in a small town where the family ostracized by most of the citizens. Occasionally a woman knocks on the door to ask Isabelle for a potion or a love charm, but otherwise they are left alone.

The three children grow up trying to deal with the growth of their own powers. Franny, the oldest, holds on to logic and scientific theory to deny what is happening, until she is forced to face her own power. Jet, the middle child, loses her ability to know what people are thinking, after a traumatic incident. Vincent, the youngest, deals with his ability to read the future by trying to drown his knowledge in drugs and alcohol.

Ultimately this story is the story of the power of love to harm us and heal us.

The Last Days of Cafe Leila

Donia Bijan

30753991

Thanks to Netgalley for ARC.

I read this book slowly, trying to make it last, the way one does with a delicious pastry, taking small bites of it at a time. This bittersweet tale of an Iranian’s return to home of her childhood moves between the now and the past of Noor, daughter of Zod and Pari,  owners of Cafe Leila. Along the way we learn of their history, too, and the bittersweet relationship of Noor and her daughter Lily.

Sprinkled in the text are not-quite-recipes, mouth-watering descriptions of the dishes served at Cafe Leila. They are enough to make you wish there was a restaurant near you serving such wonderful dishes.

As Noor negotiates the challenges of contemporary, post-revolutionary Iran, and her daughter’s sullen teenager opinion of being yanked out of today’s southern California freedom, we feel for Noor and want her and her daughter to be happy. Noor’s love for her daughter and her ailing, elderly father, form the central conflict of this story.

This is truly a book to be savored.

 

 

Victoria the Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire

Julia Baird

24423800

This biography explores the two sides of an extraordinary woman—the public side, involved in politics and negotiating the tensions of monarch as real power, and the private side of wife, mother, and widow.

When Victoria came to the throne in 1837, the monarchy was a very different thing than when she died in 1901, and Julia Baird successfully negotiates the pressures Victoria dealt with over her long life, particularly the succession of prime ministers, not all of whom were comfortable dealing with this powerful woman.

It is the tension of being a women in power in a time that did not see women as having a role outside the home, and the demands of her personal life as mother to nine children that make this book so interesting. Julia Baird moves effortlessly between the private woman and the public monarch.

The book balances the demands of a monarch with the demands of a wife, mother, and widow, with a deftness that makes this book so readable.

 

Beyond Absolution

Cora Harrison

Beyond Absolution: A mystery set in 1920s Ireland (A Reverend Mother Mystery) by [Harrison, Cora]

I loved Harrison’s My Lady Judge series so much, set in 16th-century Ireland, that I was willing to give this new series a try, and I’m glad I did. She picked another time of turmoil for Ireland: Cork in the 1920s. The main character is another strong woman, Reverend Mother Aquinas, head of the convent school. She spends much of her time worrying about how to stretch the money to cover the needs of her pupils.

A beloved, gentle priest is killed in the confessional at a time when Reverend Mother  happens to be in the church, and her former pupil Inspector Patrick Cashman investigates the murder. The priest had been much troubled by the sight of a ceramic Japanese hawk in a local antiques shop, and the Reverend Mother thinks she remembers something about this hawk. It takes a gentle reminder of her past from her wealthy cousin, married to a judge, to jog her memory.

Cork in the 1920s is a fascinating setting for this new series, as the battle between the Republicans and the English begins to warm up, and the local citizens are forced to take sides in the conflict. Aside from the puzzle of the murder, Mother Aquinas’ former students on both sides are drawn into this well written mystery.

 

 

 

 

Pachinko

Jin Min Lee

I’ve never played pachinko or seen a machine outside of travelogs of Japan, but it looks like fun. All those little steels balls bouncing down among the pegs to land at the bottom. It probably isn’t so much fun for the little balls being knocked around and bouncing off the pegs. I wonder if that is how life felt for the main characters of this novel. The woman Sunja is jerked from her home in Korea and lands in Japan, the wife of a Christian minister, carrying a child that is not his. Unable to speak Japanese, she works hard to make a home for her husband and her child. The story of her efforts and the lives of her two children are the main thread that runs through the book.

It is the brilliant writing and detached attitude that prevents this book from descending into soap opera. We are with Sunja every step of the way and rooting for her to succeed. Through loss and war, good times and bed, she perseveres until she finds her own level of peace.

The Mirror Thief

Martin Seay

26109004

I picked up this book because it’s set in one of my favorite cities, Venice Italy, in the 16th century. It’s also set in Venice, California, in the 1950s and in Las Vegas, at the Venetian Hotel in 2003. In spite of my expectations, I liked the Las Vegas sections the best. Curtis is a fascinating character. He blunders about looking for Stanley, without knowing quite why, as various other characters seem to know more than he does. Stanley,  in 1958, roams Venice Beach, looking for the author of a book called The Mirror Thief. Crivano in Venice in 1592, plots to kidnap a mirror maker and take him to Turkey.

Their stories weave in and out of each other, but never quite touch, until you are wrapped in mystery. This is a compulsively good book, one you are nearly unable to put down. The desire to find out what happens next and how these three stories are related keep you reading.

I confess that plot isn’t very important to me if the characters are memorable, and these are very memorable. All are three-dimensionable, and I forgot that originally I wanted to know how they are related. Mr Seay is an excellent writer and loved getting to know his people.

All Creatures Great and Small

James Herriot

13099995

I remember reading this book several years ago, and when it turned up on one of my subscription lists for low-cost books, I decided to give it a reread. I’m glad I did. The innocent charm is still there, without any hint of sentimentality. Herriot remembers his coming to Darrowby as a newly graduated veterinary surgeon with the ink drying on his certificate with humor and good will. His many adventures with large animals in the field and small animals in the office is endearing.

Would that all my books aged this well.

Everybody Behaves Badly

Lesley M.M. Blume

 

30129406

First the good news: the book is well-researched and well written. If you have no knowledge of Hemingway and want to get a feel for how he worked and lived in Paris in the years leading up to the publication of his book The Sun Also Rises, this is a good book for you.

Then the bad news: I don’t understand the reason the author spent so much time and energy writing a book about a man she obviously despises. It is painful to read.

92 years ago, Hemingway thinly disguised real people and put their hijinks into a book. They are all dead, as is the world he wrote about. Why dig up all the dirt and rehash all Hemingway’s betrayals, small and large, and put them all together in a portrait that there is no need to read? By this time, we all know he was a drunk and a womanizer. That doesn’t take away from the fact that he wrote some of the most deathless prose that changed literature forever.

His work stands on its own. If we start judging writers on their personal lives, who can stand?

The Nutmeg Tree

Margery Sharp

The Nutmeg Tree: A Novel by [Sharp, Margery]

Relax, take off your shoes, put your feet up, and get a drink. Prepare to be entertained by a light romantic comedy by a mistress of the form.

You can count on Margery Sharp for a confection of light romance with sweet witty overtones, and this book delivers. A madcap heroine, Julia Packett, receives an invitation to her daughter’s wedding in France. Julia’s husband died shortly after their wedding, leaving her with a baby on her hands. Doing the sensible thing, she gave guardianship of the baby to the grandparents and continues her unconventional lifestyle, living on air, and moving from place to place and job to job.

Now she’d rather like to go to France to see her daughter married and live off her in-laws for a spell. You see, money is a little tight, and Julia barely scrapes together enough to carry her to France. Something will come up, she is sure, that will enable her to return to England when the time comes.

Julia reminds me of Holly Golightly in her ability to live on air and attract men who want to take care of her. Of course, with a grown daughter, she is getting a bit long in the tooth for this lifestyle. Maybe it’s time to settle down.

By the end of the book, she has found the right man for her, settled her daughter’s engagement problems, and never has to worry about money again. Delightful.