Lucky Beach

JoAnn Bassett

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This book was quite a departure for JoAnn Bassett. I’ve read and like all her Islands of Aloha series and her standalone Mai Tai Butterfly. Her heroines are feisty, intelligent and strong. Except for this one. She is too stupid to live, weak, and passive. She doesn’t see how abusive her boyfriend is, but is too enchanted by his performance in bed to notice the warning signs. She is taken in by her friend (?), a real estate agent, who seems only interested in making money off her. All the other characters seem washed out, without the usual piquant personality quirks I have some to expect from Bassett. And her stupid dog, a miniature schnauzer is just annoying.

Everybody can have a bad book, and I will probably buy her next one. Two in a row, and I’ll stop reading.

Nine Women

Shirley Ann Grau

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Whether it is only a matter of hours, as a women says goodbye to her summer friends, or a long life, these stories of nine women from all walks of life in New Orleans, will captivate you. Shirley Ann Grau’s deft writing and deep insight into a woman’s mind and heart make for captivating reading. Nine little gems collected into one book, these stories are well worth your time.

Throne, Dominations

Dorothy L. Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh

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I tried to discern where Sayers left off and Paton took over, and I confess I couldn’t. Ms Paton has mastered Sayers voice so completely, her writing is  indistinguishable from Ms Sayers.

Which leads me to rejoice that Lord Peter lives! He lives in married bliss with Harriet Vane, who is pregnant with his son as the book ends. Harriet continues her writing of detective novels to the delight of her mother-in-law (may she live forever) and the consternation of her sister-in-law (a curse on her and her ilk), and the contentment of her readers.

All our favorite characters are here, with some new one to gladden our hearts. Meredith Bunter (Bunter’s brother), endeavors to give satisfaction as the butler, and Juliet Mango, as Harriet’s maid, also does double duty where Miss Climpson is too old, or too refined to get the younger ones to confide in her.

At heart of the book, of course, aside from murder mystery intrusions, is the story of Lord Peter’s love for Harriet. A love that is solidly returned. The trials and travails of the past are resolved and all that is left is the working out of the details of their love. Harriet is turning out to appreciate the charm of being spoiled by money and servants and lays to rest what demons persist from being jailed for murder herself.

Altogether a most satisfying novel. Oh, yes, there’s a murder mystery to follow and a problem to solve if that sort of thing amuses you.

The Circle of Ceridwen

Octavia Randolph

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I received this book free from the author in exchange for a review.

Set in 9th century Britain, the book tells the story of Ceridewen, a orphan girl trying to find her way through the dangers of Anglo-Saxon times. The first part of the book was quite good. Ceridwen leaves her safety as an orphan in a monastery when it is suggested that she remain permanently. Soon she falls in with Aelfwyn, a young woman who has been given up as a wife to Yrling, a Danish raider in hopes of bringing peace to her people. Brought into her household, Ceridwen finds refuge and a place for herself.

Her peace is shattered when a young man, previously known to Aelfwyn, is brought as a captive to Yrling’s stronghold. Battered and bruised, blinded by the captors, Gyric is dependent upon Ceridwen to escape and return to his father’s home. As Lord of Kilton, Ealdoerman of Wessex, Gyric’s father is an important liegeman to Kind Alfred the Great. The second half of the book their journey back to Wessex, and details Ceridwen’s growing love for the blinded man.

I wish she has stayed at home. The details of life with the Danes is fascinating and Aelfwyn’s struggle to make a home for herself and an better life for the people around her make for good reading. Ceridwen on the road and life in Wessex not so much.

I made it through all 636 pages with admiration for the author’s research and knowledge of 9th century English history, and little desire to find out what happens next. If you can overlook lie/lay errors and sentences that use ‘between he and I’ constructions, you will be able to enjoy the book. There are six novels in this series, so if you like it, there’s lots more to come.

The Magdelen Girls

V.S. Alexander

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The cover art questions ‘Who will save them?’ the answer, unfortunately is nobody. From the 18th to the late 20th century ‘fallen’ women, prostitutes, and young women whose only crime was to appear too attractive were imprisoned in institutions and labeled ‘Magdalenes,’  where they worked without compensation at laundries under the supervision of the Catholic Church. Most of these inmates of these institutions were unwed mothers or rebellious daughters. The fathers of their children were, of course, never punished and their babies were given up for adoption.

Although the laundries were in several countries, it is in Ireland that this book is set. Young Teagan is guilty of nothing more than being an attractive teen who flirts with a handsome young priest. The priest confesses his attraction to his superior and the result is the incarceration of the young girl in a Magdalen laundry. For life.

Teagan meets the strict Sister Anne, superior of the laundry. She appears to be struggling with demons of her own. Teagan makes friend with rebellious Nora and pious Lea, as she struggles to maintain her sanity and identity against the weight of constant oppression.

I had my own struggles with this book. This is an important story that needs to be told, but it is poorly served by this melodrama. The twisted Sister Anne is a cliche villain, and Teagan is too insipid to care about. The ending is forced and unbelievable and Sister Anne’s backstory is just as unbelievable. Someday someone will write a powerful novel about the Magdalen laundries. Until then, we’ll just have to wait.

 

ARC from Netgalley

For You Mom, Finally

Ruth Reichl

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I picked up this book for $1.99 because I had read and enjoyed her books about food a restaurants. I was unaware of the tension between her and her mother. This touching memoir, written after her mother’s death, tells of finding a box of letters and notes her mother kept over the years.

A very different person from the one Ruth thought she was emerges from this  treasure trove. A woman forced into the life of wife and mother, she struggled to maintain her sense of self. She knew she wasn’t the perfect mother, and she tried to encourage her daughter Ruth to be all that she couldn’t be.

I wish I had read this book while my mother was still alive, so I could ask her the questions I have.

Bread Givers

Anzia Yezierska

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This autobiographical novel of a young woman trying to escape life as a poor immigrant on NY lower East Side was originally published in 1925 and reissued in 1950. Sarah Smolinsky is one of four daughters of a family who immigrates from a shtetl in Poland to America, where they find a life of grinding poverty. Any extra money they bring in from their jobs is given away by their father to various charities he supports. He doesn’t work, but instead lives off their earnings and spends his time studying and teaching Torah. He believes women exist to support men and without men, women have no reason to exist.

Sarah sees her three sisters sold into marriage, but vows to fight this fate for herself. Determined to get an education, she earns the nickname ‘blood-and-iron’ from her father, who rails against her ‘unwomanly’ attitude. Fed by a fierce desire to learn, she works her way up to a respectable position as a teacher, getting a college education by her own efforts.

By the end, Sarah realizes that there is more of her father’s strength and determination than she had first thought, and she is reconciled with him.

Anzia’s voice is similar to the voice of many first-generation immigrants who try to break free of the old world but who have difficulty finding their place in the New. In the introduction, Alice Kesslelr-Harris writes of Anzia ‘Everyone admired her and no one could bear to be with her for very long.’ The same could be said for her heroine.

Three Hearts and Three Lions

Poul Anderson

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This was a nostalgic read for me, as I first encountered Poul Anderson in high school. I decided to read it to see if it held up over time. For the most part it did. The story of Holger Carlson, a Danish engineer wounded fighting the Nazis is transported back in time to fight the forces of Chaos. Known as Ogier the Dane, he is the champion of Law. His shield bears three hearts and three lions, and he is famous. Although he knows nothing of this land or its problems, he immediately aligns himself with the forces of Law against Chaos.

The part I remember best is the saying ‘Bare is brotherless back,’ and I have encountered it many times in various forms over the years. Holger finds that in spite of the fact he is literally brotherless, he has allies in the fight against Chaos. Some are human, and some are magical. Alienora the swan maiden is especially appealing.

A champion for all times, we could use his like today as the forces of Chaos rise again.

The Custom of the Country

Edith Wharton

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I confess to being baffled. I can (just barely) understand why Undine is so relentlessly social climbing, always wanting more and despising it once she has it, but I’m completely puzzled by what the men see in here. There is  only one man who has enough insight to realize that if she treats her husband so cruelly that she is likely to treat him that way too, and he drops her.

I think part of her attraction must be the high value she puts on herself. She’s pretty enough, all right, but it is her own self-worth that bedazzles the eyes of the men who surround her. She holds herself so high that they think by possessing her they are enhancing their own value.

Wharton sums up her greediness and ignorance in one sentence: ‘She had everything she wanted, but she still felt, at times, that there were other things she might want if she knew about them.’

I’ve known women like Undine and have always wondered about the attraction they hold for men. Other women don’t seem to like them, but men can’t get enough of them. A mystery.