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Archive for the ‘Women's fiction’ Category

supremesNancy from Circulation recommended this book to me.  In particular, she said the audiobook was really enjoyable — and she was right — I loved it!  It is narrated by two different women playing the role of the main characters.  The voices were perfect for the story, and  I was quickly drawn in.  But I don’t think I would have picked it up without her glowing review. Here’s what Nancy has to say about this book:

In the small southern town of Plainview, Indiana, there are three female childhood friends, Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean, who have lived through the 1960s, one adventure after another. Nicknamed “The Supremes” at an early age due to their looks, attitude, and regular meetings at the same table at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat diner.

The story begins as the girls reach middle age. Their group includes their husbands, and they meet regularly after church for dinner at Earl’s, now managed by his son. You soon find out Earl’s is much more than the first black-owned business in a racially divided town. It is a place of refuge, peace talks, and forgiveness.

The first of the wonderfully charismatic, strong-willed women you meet is Odette who is the “say it like it is and don’t take no guff off of anyone” member of the trio. I fell in love with her sense of humor and her realistic viewpoint when she describes an early morning bout with hot flashes and her refrigerator remedy.  She states, “I opened the refrigerator door to get the water pitcher and decided to stick my head inside.  I was in almost to my shoulders, enjoying the frosty temperature, when I got the giggles thinking how someone coming upon me, head stuffed into the refrigerator instead of the oven would say, ‘Now that’s a fat woman who is completely clueless about how a proper kitchen suicide works!’” Her adventures include visits from her pot-smoking mother and Eleanor Roosevelt (who, by the way, are both dead), and a life-altering event that requires the strength of her family and friends to get her through.

Clarice is the wife of a charming, handsome, but unfaithful, husband. He probably loves her, but can’t seem to manage to be monogamous. She realizes she is following in her mother’s footsteps–and struggles with the thought of how her life might be without him.  She has the perfect marriage in the public eye, but a not so private truth has to be faced eventually.

Beautiful Barbara Jean, the last of the trio, seems to be the one who has dealt with many of her life decisions poorly and struggles to hide her drinking as a result.  The loss of her first love, marriage to a much older man, and losing a child are things even the best of friends cannot always fix.  Luckily for her, Clarice and Odette don’t give up trying.

The story is told by intertwining tales from the past with the current lives of the three and the multitude of friends and family characters they encounter daily. The author invites you to step into the lives of these amazing women as they face racism, greed, emotional and physical tragedy, all the while demonstrating the bond of true friendship. There will be tears of joy and sorrow shed for the characters one minute, and the next you’ll get the giggles–as Odette would say.

Check the WRL catalog for The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat

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TheOrchardistTalmadge is a lonely man, living quietly in his orchard, enjoying the quiet rhythms of the seasons and nursing the loss of his mother and the unexplained disappearance of his sister decades earlier. When two feral and visibly pregnant girls steal fruit from his market stall, he is intrigued rather than angry. Talmadge manages to befriend the girls, but only on their own terms. He shelters the girls and tries to protect them from imminent danger, but an evil man appears from their past with shockingly tragic consequences.

A powerful story, deep and quietly told, The Orchardist  entraps the reader into its world.  First time novelist Amanda Coplin breaks tradition by leaving out quotation marks, and telling some events from multiple viewpoints, and she succeeds in creating a compelling novel that exquisitely captures a time (around 1900) and a place (the Pacific Northwest).  But she most effectively captures the lives of ordinary individuals caught in extraordinary circumstances. The Orchardist is a moving portrait of people who are damaged but who remain remarkably resilient. The characters, like real people, would be better off if they could put the past behind them, but also like real people, some of them cannot forgive and they must survive however they can. 

Try The Orchardist if you like to get caught up in a sweeping historical novel with hardship and misfortune, but also with burgeoning hope, such as The Light Between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman or Year of Wonders,  by Geraldine Brooks .

I listened to part of The Orchardist and I highly recommend Mark Bramhall’s reading as his gravelly voice captured Talmadge’s gruff personality and the slow unfolding melancholy of the story.

Check the WRL catalog for The Orchardist.

Check the WRL catalog for The Orchardist on CD.

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ChristmasMouse1“The kettle began to sing, promising comfort.”

Sometimes only cosy* will do. On occasion I feel like action and excitement from my literature, and I am willing to put up with violence and despair to get it, but sometimes life requires a more moderate gait. When you need a gentle tome, then Miss Read will deliver.

I am new to Miss Read, despite her first book being published in 1955. I was creating a “Curl Up With a Cozy Tale” display at the library and felt drawn to The Christmas Mouse. Being slightly obsessive, I have branched out into her other titles in myriad formats; as ebooks and as audiobooks on CD. Her basic postulation seems to be that nothing in life is so bad that the sadness can’t be lessened by time, a cup of tea and the warmth of family and friends, with special emphasis on the cups of tea.

For my commute, I grabbed the first CD that was checked in and plunged into the middle of her Thrush Green series. I discovered that there are a lot of characters, like when my Great Aunty Judith tells me long and involved stories about the internal workings and external marriage problems of distant cousins, and I am expected to keep them all straight. After negotiating a tricky intersection I’d hear something such as, “Betty, Maggie and Dotty all sat down at Betty’s scrubbed kitchen table for a nice cup of tea. Outside the birds hopped among the spring flowers and chirped cheerfully. ‘Tell me all about it,’ said Betty.” I would suddenly realize that I had no idea of the identities of Betty, Maggie and Dotty, but for the enjoyment of the story it doesn’t matter because it is like meeting real people; I am introduced to them as they are now, and then slowly learn about their pasts and how they interconnect to other people we know in common.

The Christmas Mouse tells the story of Mrs. Berry who lives with her widowed daughter and two small grandchildren. Despite the tragedy of the daughter’s young widowhood, the book gently and with quiet wit paints a portrait of a close and stable family. On Christmas Eve, Mrs. Berry must face her fears–of mice and other stray creatures. The line drawings by J.S. Goodall add to the warmth. The little boy in the frontispiece exudes contentment, sitting in an overlarge armchair, wrapped up in a voluminous coat and slippers, and eating a warm bowl of bread and milk.

Try The Christmas Mouse if you are in the mood for cosy. Try it if you are tired of the commercial fuss in the lead up to Christmas, as The Christmas Mouse’s characters don’t have much material stuff, but still make Christmas a warm, loving family affair. And just in case you think this sort of book isn’t intellectually stimulating, I learned a new word, which doesn’t happen frequently in my fiction endeavors: wayzgoose, which is a printers’ outing. Literary quotes at the beginning of each chapter, from Robert Burns to William Wordsworth add to the appeal. 

* And this is definitely cosy and not cozy because this is a Very British Book.

Check the WRL catalog for The Christmas Mouse.

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Amity

This week’s reviews come to you from the library’s Outreach Services Division, starting with a recommendation from Connie: 

Amity & Sorrow is a fictional story inspired by the events surrounding David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, and Warren Jeffs and the FLDS Yearning for Zion religious splinter sects. The novel begins with a mother and her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow, fleeing their home, until they crash their car and are stranded in rural Oklahoma. A farmer gives them aid, and the women stay because they have no way of getting anywhere else. The story of why they are fleeing unfolds in flashbacks, as the mother, Amaranth, fears her husband (who claims to be God) is pursuing them.

I found the story interesting and repelling at the same time. I thought the author did a good job of making me think about why people are drawn to this religious lifestyle, how it provides a missing sense of community while isolating them from the rest of society, and how hard their day-to-day lives are. I think this would be a good pick for book discussion groups because it makes readers examine our thoughts and feelings about a part of our society that is outside the mainstream.

Check the WRL catalog for Amity & Sorrow

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rosewaterToday’s post is written by Jennifer from Circulation Services.

The story of three sisters seems to be deeply ingrained in our human subconscious.  There are the mythological Weird Sisters, the women of Ang Lee’s film Eat Drink Man Woman, and those of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, to name just a few examples.  One could even go so far as to contemplate the “Three Sisters” method of planting beans, squash, and corn, used throughout North America in pre-Columbian times.  The motif is not limited to any single culture, and more often than not, as in Lee and Esquivel’s works, the lives of the three sisters are intimately connected to the food that they cook and enjoy.

Marsha Mehran’s novel Rosewater and Soda Bread is a fine addition to this little niche of a subgenre.  After fleeing their home country of Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the three Aminpour sisters open Babylon Café in the tiny Irish town of Ballinacroagh.  Practical Marjan, the oldest, is trying to keep the café (and everyone’s lives) running smoothly while being pursued by a dashing English gentleman.  Middle sister Bahar bears a heavy burden from a troubled past, but is finding solace in an unexpected place.  And the youngest, Layla, is a Shakespeare aficionado who just wants a little independence from her older sisters – and time to spend with her boyfriend.  As if life isn’t complicated enough, their landlady and former pastry chef Mrs. Delmonico finds a “mermaid” washed up on the beach.  Who is she, where did she come from – and what about the baby on the way?

Much like a rambler in the hilly Irish countryside, Rosewater and Soda Bread is unhurried in reaching its destination, minding small details and occasionally taking detours.  This is part of the book’s charm, though, especially when Mehran describes Marjan’s cooking and its effect on those who consume it.  For (most of) the residents of Ballinacroagh, Bablyon Café’s food and drink are synonymous with comfort.  Indeed, the best word to describe Mehran’s prose would probably be “cozy.”  I would highly recommend settling in with the book on a rainy day, a hot cup of bergamot tea by your side, and letting yourself be enraptured by the charm and intrigue of the Aminpour sisters’ adopted hometown.

Recipes for many of the dishes referenced in the story can be found in the back of the book, something for which I’m very grateful.  I nearly drooled when reading the description of Marjan’s tacheen, a saffron rice and chicken dish: “…first buttered rice and almonds, then fried chicken and sautéed spinach, the yogurt binding them into a brotherhood of delicious play.” Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?  I would recommend this book for gourmands, anyone interested in Irish culture, those who are fascinated by what happens when cultures from thousands of miles apart meet – and by how sharing a meal can help break down even the most seemingly insurmountable barriers.

Check the WRL catalog for Rosewater and Soda Bread

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YokotaOfficersClubThis compelling story of family, betrayal, and memory starts out in the late 1960s as 18-year-old Bernie is flying to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa to visit her family after her first year at college.  She grew up in an Air Force family, under the shadow of larger-than-life Major Mace Root, and popular and beautiful younger sister, Kit.  Now she has been “breathing civilian air” for a year and has joined a peace group, Damsels in Dissent.  Her large family are astonished at their first sight of her at the airport in tattered jeans with peace symbols and no bra.  She, in return, is astonished at how badly her family is dealing with their new assignment, from her teenage sister’s open rebellion to her younger sister’s anxiety to her mother’s cupboard full of Valium.

The story moves forwards and backwards in time from the 1960s to the 1940s, with poignant descriptions of the plight of Japanese civilians in the immediate aftermath of World War II when work, shelter, and food were in short supply. Slowly the picture is revealed of Bernie’s past and the book explores the nature of blame, responsibility, and human ties as Bernie comes to a wrenching realization about the triggers of her family’s disintegration eight years earlier during their posting to Yokota, Japan.

The Yokota Officers Club does a wonderful job at capturing a slice of military family life, especially the isolation of Bernie and all her siblings, except popular Kit.  A myriad of details of military life are scattered throughout, some of which are still pertinent for military families today, such as the frequent relocations. Bernie calls the souvenirs of bases where her family have lived “the spoils” of military life, particularly “the set of three framed fans that have hung of the wall in the hallways of all the houses we lived in since Fussa.”  My family lived in Europe rather than Asia so we lean more towards cuckoo clocks and wooden shoes than ornamental fans, although in North Dakota we had the same obscure brass Turkish camel wind chime as our neighbors.  Other details such as a family losing their jobs for not mowing the lawn are dated, as a base family will still get a notice about a messy yard, but the military is less strict.  And some things have completely changed: “Wives of majors who wish to make colonel wear heels and hose in public.”

In turns both funny and sad, The Yokota Officers Club is a story about loyalty – to family and to country, and to people who surround us.  It is based on Sarah Bird’s own childhood and she dedicates the book to her family – her Lieutenant Colonel father, nurse mother and three brothers and two sisters, just like Bernie’s family. But in the acknowledgements she adds, “to my family who… understood and accepted my capricious weaving of fiction through our shared past.”  Try The Yokota Officers Club for an emotional, character driven read about family relations.

Check the WRL catalog for The Yokota Officers Club.

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dreamsvilleThis debut fiction novel by Amy Hill Hearth deals with the small town of Naples, Florida during the early 1960s.

The story is told from Dora Witherspoon’s perspective.  Dora works in the small post office in town.  But the story is really about the newcomer, Jackie Hart, who puts together a literary society that accepts the town’s misfits, and in doing so, makes a place where all these different characters can fit in.

Brought together by a love of reading come Jackie, a transplant from Boston;  Dora, a young divorcee;  Mrs. Bailey White, a convicted murderer; Priscilla, a young black woman; Jane, a secret writer; Miss Lansbury, a librarian; and Robbie-Lee, a gay man.

They decide at the first meeting to read anything that makes them think about issues of the day.  As they open their minds to new ideas, they also open their hearts to each other.

Taking place in the 1960s, the book also deals with environmental issues, women’s issues, and race issues.  The serious topics aren’t addressed heavy-handedly, but just enough to show the conflicts in town and provide some jumping off points for a good book discussion. Book discussion questions are included in the back of the book I checked out.

Several people recommended this book to me, and I see the appeal.  The issues are meaty, but the characters are likeable and the novel is conversational, not preachy.   It has a bit of the flavor found in The Help.

Check the WRL catalog for Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society

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secondtimeWhat would you do if you were given a financial boost so you could change careers? Four college friends get to explore the answers to that question in this charming story by Beth Kendrick.

Ten years after they all graduated with English degrees Brooke, Cait, Jamie, and Anna are employed, but not doing what they would really like to be doing. When an unexpected financial windfall gives them a little cushion to follow their dreams, they each take a risk.

Brooke buys Henley House, the off-campus dorm where the friends lived while in college. She intends to turn the old structure into a welcoming bed and breakfast. She’s joined by Jamie, who leaves L.A. to try her hand as a party planner; Anna, who leaves her stressful marital issues to bake specialty desserts; and Cait, who leaves a shaky associate professorship to write a novel. The book is about their friendship and their choices.

The book reminds me of those multi-character stories by Maeve Binchy or Debbie Macomber. The character interactions are important–and it is satisfying to see how these different lives fit together.

Second Time Around is a fun, easy escape. It has a little bit for everyone–romance, intrigue, home repair, baking–this hits all the popular trends! Perfect for hot summer days.

Check the WRL catalog for Second Time Around

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I typically choose beach reads in the fall or wintertime.  As temperatures drop below 50°F, cover images with hammocks and cerulean blue seas become irresistible and I pick them up for escape purposes, to tide me over until I can reach a beach in a warmer clime. It’s like a chocolate indulgence or an extravagant café selection — a little me-time fantasy.  Ocean Beach fit the bill this time.

The author’s work caught my eye months ago when this sequel to Ten Beach Road came out so I’ve had it on my to-read list ever since (and enjoyed Ocean Beach without having read the first book in the Beach series).  Since then, I’ve learned that Wax was once honored with the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion Award for her debut romance 7 Days and 7 Nights in 2003. Now I’ve just learned that Wendy Wax has joined the Downton Abbey craze — using her fandom as the source of inspiration for her latest novel, While We Were Watching Downton Abbey

The scenario of Ocean Beach made me recall the 80′s television sitcom Designing Women.  A group of women friends, assembled in Wax’s typical ensemble-cast style, are collaborating on the renovation of an historic Art Deco home in the dreamy vicinity of Miami’s South Beach.  This project shows the promise of promoting the future success of their fledgling enterprise owing to the fact that their remodeling project is to be featured on a reality television show called Do Over.  However, they had not anticipated that such notoriety might stem from a camera focused much more on their private lives than their skills with refinishing and refurbishing old houses so they are soon wishing their dirty laundry wasn’t about to be broadcast for all to see.

Ocean Beach readers will find a little romance, troubling pasts and deeply hidden secrets, a bit of amateur detective work, and more than a few strained domestic relationships in this lively, dramatic novel. Fans of chick lit and romance are sure to enjoy turning its pages, preferably while relaxing on a sun-kissed beach.

Check the WRL catalog for Ocean Beach

If you’re interested in starting with Wendy Wax’s earlier books, try The Accidental Bestseller.

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durablegoodsCover

All this week I am writing about a theme close to my heart – books featuring children of American military personnel. Some of the books I’m reviewing are up to date, talking about children with parents in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I am starting with an older book, with an even older setting.

Durable Goods is primarily a moving and beautiful coming of age story, written with a present tense immediacy. Katie is twelve and her friend Cherylanne is fourteen. They live next door to each other in a row of six connected houses on an army base in Texas around the 1960s. Katie’s mother recently died of cancer and most of Katie’s time and attention is taken up with navigating the changes of adolescence without her mother. Katie’s life is teasing Cherylanne’s older brother, worrying about shaving her legs, wanting her breasts to grow, and waiting for her first kiss.

Katie’s father’s military position holds a dominant position in their lives, and her Colonel father is inflexible, demanding and violent.  He is similar to, although not as colorful as, “Bull” Meecham in The Great Santini.  When I told a colleague at the library who grew up in a military family about my plans for my blog posts this week, she said she doesn’t like this sort of book because she is sick of military men being portrayed as thugs, as her father was stern but never violent. Author Elizabeth Berg said that Katie’s  father is based on her own father, but she adds that things have changed and violence is not acceptable in military families now.

Katie’s father clashes the most with Katie’s eighteen-year-old sister, Diane. “It’s not right, Katie. He’s not supposed to hit us like that. I’m going to tell someone, I swear. I’m going to get him into trouble.” Diane runs away and is brought back, but at eighteen she can leave, but will she?

Some of the details of military life are odd to civilians, “Our fathers’ names and ranks are posted outside our doors, above our mailboxes. We have look-alike bushes in the front and back.” Other details are well known, such as moving to a new base frequently, “‘We are not allowed to cry when we drive away–or any other time, either–about any place we leave behind. Sometimes it aches so hard, the thought of all you can’t have anymore, your desk the third in the third row, the place where you buy licorice, the familiarity of the freckles on your friends’ faces, the smell of your own good bedroom. You will be the new girl again, the one one always having to learn things.”

If you like the character-driven women’s fiction of Ann Hood or Anna Quindlen, try Durable Goods for its poignant coming of age story. I also recommend it for military children, either grown or older teenagers and current or retired military personnel. If you are interested in a longer list of books about military children check out my (now sadly dated looking but with updated content) website that I started for a class assignment in 2003. Things have changed a lot in ten years, not least the two wars that have lead to a resurgence of books about military children. I will review a sampling of four more of these books over the week ahead.

Check the WRL catalog for Durable Goods.

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echoThis week’s posts are reviews from the library’s Outreach Services Division.

This debut novel by Andrea Thalasinos attracted me for two reasons; it was about dogs and another culture that I didn’t know anything about.  For me, An Echo Through the Snow was a win-win!

The story alternates between two settings and characters.

In present day Wisconsin, a struggling young woman named Rosalie, rescues a Siberian husky, which profoundly changes the course of her life.  As she becomes more involved with dogs and the world of dog sled racing, her future looks brighter despite the odds against her.

Alternately, in 1929, a Siberian Chukchi woman, Jeaantaa, tries to
save her people’s Siberian huskies as the Russians force the Chukchi to give up their traditional lifestyle.

The story lines converge at the end, and I found both to be compelling.  The book left me wanting to know more about some of the people in Rosalie’s world, as well as Jeaantaa’s people.

The author has rescued and raised Siberian huskies, and learned how to be a musher training dogs to run a dogsled team, so she knows her subject well.  Her research on the little known Chukchi people and the history of the dog breed added to my enjoyment of the story.

Check the WRL catalog for An Echo Through the Snow

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This post illustrates the wonderful community of readers. This book was recommended to me by Cindy in a comment to my October post on Plague: A Very Short Introduction. I don’t know Cindy except through her comments, so thank you Cindy! I thoroughly enjoyed Year of Wonders. I checked it out on CD to listen on my commute, but had to scramble to find the book because I couldn’t wait over the weekend to find out what happened. It is the first book by Geraldine Brooks that I have read, so I will be looking for more of hers in the future.

The year is 1665 and Anna Frith is a widow, less than twenty years old with two young sons. She was married to a miner who was killed by a explosion in his mine.  She supports herself by working at the rectory and the local manor house as well as managing her garden, sheep and chickens. The rector recommends a lodger for her to take in and she jumps at the chance for extra cash. The young tailor who comes to stay is a wonderful man and a romance is brewing until he suddenly takes ill, develops an excruciatingly painful, apple-sized  buboe on his neck, and dies with “plague tokens” all over his body. The plague spreads, and decimates the village, while some people react with kindness and some lash out in fear. Even the kind people react in ignorance, because no one knows what causes the plague and how to fight it. With disease, death, love, loyalty, betrayal, romance, sex and history, Year of Wonders is a compelling read.

Geraldine Brooks says that Year of Wonders is based on a real village in Derbyshire, England called Eyam. When this “Plague Village” was struck with plague in 1665 it shut itself off from its neighbors. No one can now say with certainty how the plague arrived and how many died, but the sacrifice recorded in the scant facts still echoes down the years. In the Afterword to the book Geraldine Brooks says she was drawn back to Eyam and its history for years; “it was this story above all others that I longed to tell.”

This book is rich in well researched historical detail and will appeal to anyone interested in history, particularly of  the Middle Ages.  It is also wonderful women’s fiction as Anna is an incredibly strong woman who faces unbearable loss, but grabs life and lives it to the full. She is an imaginary character, but certainly one who feels real. Because of its basis in a disease, I also recommend this emotional read to people who are interested in medical non-fiction that examines the historical impact of infectious disease like  Plague: A Very Short Introduction and  The Ghost Map

Check the WRL catalog for Year of Wonders

Or place a reservation for the Gab Bag.

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Today’s review is from Nancy in Circulation Services:

“There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus.”

Joshilyn Jackson grabs you with her opening line and has you chasing her words through a wonderfully funny, exciting, eye-opening, and suspenseful journey. Her frequent “Southernisms” will keep you in stitches no matter what part of the country you’re from, and for those of us born and bred below the Mason Dixon Line, you’ll catch yourself acknowledging your Southern Belle tendencies with an uncontrollable smiling nod.

Arlene Fleet has fled her home town of Possett, Alabama, for the big city of Chicago in hopes of escaping a tiny little mistake made in her sophomore year of high school… killing the senior star quarterback and dumping his body over a cliff. Her pact with God is that if he will let her get away with this small error in judgment by not letting the body be found, she will keep three promises: never tell a lie no matter the cost, stop fornicating with every boy that crosses her path, and never return to her hometown of Possett. Ten years later, fate steps in as her African American boyfriend declares “I want to meet your family or it’s over.” One by one her promises are challenged, leading her back to Possett and the array of special family and friends. This good-hearted group includes her Southern Baptist, Bible toting Aunt Florence, her slightly “touched” crazy mother, a family tree of happy racists, and her unconditionally loving best friend Cousin Clarice. With her past catching up with her, the future seems too scary to face. Arlene remembers and reveals the events of her life that tell the story of the murder but keep the reader guessing until the end as to what really happened that night.

The story covers tough issues such as sexual abuse, teenage promiscuity, and a bit of racism mixed with denial, and in the same light expresses the strong bond between best friends and family. It’s a story of self awareness, soul searching, and acceptance of differences that will make you sad, angry, and relieved, while allowing you to laugh out loud at the antics and expressions of the eclectic characters you will come to love.

The audiobook, read by Catherine Tabor, a Georgia native, captures the diction and accent of the Alabama southerner. gods in Alabama is truly brought to life!

I recommend this first work of Joshilyn Jackson as well as her next book, Between Georgia. Another great read or listen!

Check the WRL catalog for gods in Alabama.

Check the WRL catalog for gods in Alabama in audiobook format.

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Yesterday I blogged on Anne of Green Gables, today I am looking at the eighth book in the series, Rilla of Ingleside. It was published in 1921, thirteen years after Anne of Green Gables in 1908. Some people say that L. M. Montgomery only wrote sequels to Anne of Green Gables because a contract with her publisher required it, and consequently the rest of the books aren’t as good. Perhaps none of the other books have the spark of  Anne of Green Gables, but I think they have a charm of their own as they cover Anne’s growing and grown years, her marriage, the birth and childhood of her children. In this library they are all shelved in the children’s section, but I have certainly enjoyed them and gained much from them as an adult.

Rilla of Ingleside has the distinction of being one of the saddest fiction books I have ever read. It is set during World War I as Anne has become middle-aged and discovers a few grey hairs. Her children are grown or nearly grown with her youngest, Rilla, just turning fifteen. Because the Anne of Green Gables series was first written over a hundred years ago it is also historical fiction with an authenticity that modern books set in the past can only hope to match. The characters travel by horse and buggy because that is the only possibility. Marilla and Anne wash and dry the dishes by hand and then “scald” the dish-towels because there are no automatic washing machines lurking behind the scenes. Most importantly for Rilla of Ingleside, L. M. Montgomery lived through the exact events she described and probably based much of the book on diaries she kept at the time. These details give the book an immediacy that some historical fiction lacks.  The women characters are busy with knitting socks, running Red Cross drives and rationing, while the men disappear off to war one by one, sometimes forever.

When we are looking back on the history of almost one hundred years ago, there seems an inevitability to it. Of course the Germans didn’t win WWI. Of course the war ran from 1914 to 1918 and of course the Americans entered the war in 1917. When L. M. Montgomery was a young mother in 1914 there was nothing inevitable about it. She was terrified that the Germans would win (what this would have meant for Canada is uncertain). The characters of Rilla of Ingleside wait with anticipation and often dread for the newspaper to arrive. One of the events recounted with horror is the Battle of Verdun in 1916. I had heard of this battle but was vague about the details. I looked  it up online – a luxury Montgomery couldn’t imagine when they had to wait three or four days for printed news. I tried to put myself in their place and tried to imagine the unimaginable–that a battle was raging that caused almost 700,000 battlefield deaths. Such a thing had never happened before. The young men fighting and dying at Verdun were born in 1900 or earlier. Today in 2012 they would almost certainly be dead, but their suffering and early deaths still matter. Rilla and her family were also convinced that the war had to mean something important.

A minor character Mr. Meredith says of the war, “I think it is the price humanity must pay for some blessing–some advance great enough to be worth the price–which we may not live to see but which our children’s children will inherit. ”  Now we are up to the children’s children’s children’s children, but I am not sure if we can claim that humanity has gained a great blessing from the slaughter of World War I. Rilla’s brother, Walter, challenges that “We must make it impossible for such things to happen again while the world lasts.” This book was written before the slaughter of World War II, so sadly, I think that Walter would consider that we have not lived up to his challenge.

Check the WRL catalog for Rilla of Ingleside.

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I love my job and one great aspect is exposure to all sorts of literature and encouragement to read things I don’t normally read. Romance is a genre I haven’t tried since I read Sloppy Sloshers  (as my Grandmother called her Regency Romances from authors like Georgette Heyer) as a teenager. I selected The Shunning by the complex method of walking along the Books on CD shelf and looking on the spine for a little red heart indicating romance.

Katie Lapp is 22 years old, which is old to be unmarried in her small Amish community. She is soon to be married to widower Bishop John, who has five small children from his first wife. Things already sound challenging, but Katie looks forward to becoming stepmother to five sweet children. What makes things difficult is that Katie has always been a rebel by Amish standards. She likes to sing songs that aren’t in the official Hymn book and has even hidden a forbidden guitar that belonged to her first love Daniel, who drowned on his nineteenth birthday. A shocking event on her wedding days leads Katie to be shunned by the Amish Community. No one is allowed to communicate with her in any way or they risk being shunned as well. Some of the saddest scenes are when Katie sits down to eat her dinner in her family kitchen, but at a separate table. Even her sweet and previously loving mother won’t talk to her.

For the Amish the event of Shunning is meant to be so horrible that the shunned person will fall back into line and do what the community requests. Katie finds the experience miserable but will she confess and repent? A revealed family secret, plus a growing feeling that she might not belong with the Amish leads Katie to consider the huge and desperate step of leaving the community.

The mystery in The Shunning was a bit predictable since I guessed two important secrets early in the book. The story moves at a moderate pace, which gives plenty of time to really care about the characters and their fates. Every character is nuanced. Bishop John is physically attracted to Katie, which is slightly creepy given their difference in age, but he is shown as a kind man who loves his children and will be a kind and loyal husband. Even the children are fully drawn characters. Although I selected The Shunning by the Romance sticker, I felt that the romantic elements aren’t extremely significant. The Amish are portrayed sympathetically and presumably realistically as the author Beverly Lewis grew up near Amish communities in Pennsylvania. I found the closeness of the families appealing, but was shocked by the harshness of their shunning.

The book was made into a movie in 2011. Like many adaptations, it misses the subtlety and depth of the book, but it was great to see what the Amish houses and community looked like – not quite what I pictured.  It has two sequels, The Confession and The Reckoning  which are currently on my bedside table waiting to tell me what happens to Katie and her family.

I recommend The Shunning if you are in the mood for a slower read with a glimpse into a contemporary and nearby, but exotic lifestyle. Try reading it  on a hot day when you need cooling off, as most the action occurs in a chilly Pennsylvania winter.

Check the WRL catalog for The Shunning.

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I enjoy Susan Mallery’s books and was very happy when I saw she was starting a new  series.  Barefoot Season, a Blackberry Island novel, came out a few months ago.  This looks like a fluffy summer romance, but it isn’t.

Michelle Sanderson returns home to the Blackberry Island Inn to claim her inheritance and recover both physically and emotionally from the trauma of serving in a war zone.  But instead of peace, she finds unwanted physical changes to her childhood home.  Her recently deceased mother had made several unwise financial decisions while renovating the inn, and Michelle is facing foreclosure if she can’t catch up on the bills.  To top it off, her ex-best friend, Carly, is living in the owner’s suite and is firmly entrenched in running the business.

Despite Michelle wishing she didn’t need Carly’s help to run the Inn,  she comes to realize that Carly has good ideas about how to bring in new business.  And Carly realizes that working with Michelle isn’t as unpredictable as working for Michelle’s mother.  She learns to trust Michelle at her word.  As the women work to get the Inn back in the black, they also rebuild their own lives and start to rebuild the friendship they once shared.

Barefoot Season is less “romancey” than Mallery’s Fool’s Gold series.  There is a romantic element, but this novel is more about women’s friendships and healing wounds from the past. One of the things I particularly liked about this book is Michelle’s recovery from PTSD.  Michelle isn’t infallible, and it takes time for her to realize that she needs help.  That plotline added a particularly poignant depth to the story.

Check the WRL catalog for Barefoot Season

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A teenage girl shoplifts a too-tight, red, sleeveless turtleneck from Walmart. Immediately afterwards, the only adult in her life (who turns out not to be her mother or official stepmother) drops dead in the checkout line. This roller-coaster start sets the tone for this stirring tale of Lutie and her young brother, Fate, as they struggle to survive alone.

The plot bounds along as appalling events follow closely one after another. The children end up living on the streets of Las Vegas where they are prey to a parade of unsavory characters who seem to offer a helping hand but really want to exploit them. Teenage Lutie is often flawed, sometimes to the point of not being likable, but I realized that she has adult responsibilities without any help or guidance. Ultimately, she knows she loves her shy, bookish brother and wants to do what is best for him. A series of plot twists and turns ensue including Lutie’s forays into child prostitution and drugs. I found this very plausible and and also very disturbing.

Lutie and Fate’s desperate situation and downward spiraling luck drew me into their story, but I found it increasingly difficult to believe that they would ever extricate themselves from the mess their lives had become. Readers of Billie Letts’ other novels, such as the popular Where the Heart Is, know that she leans towards tearjerking but heartwarming endings, and Made in the U.S.A. follows that pattern. Who knows, maybe some of the exploitative strangers are genuinely kind? And maybe Lutie will find a practical use for her gymnastic talents?

This book is for you if you like a fast-paced, human interest novel with strong, quirky characters, that shows the dark side of life but ultimately has a joyous ending. I was glad that their story ended how life should proceed rather than what often happens to the many real Luties and Fates alone and lost on city streets.

Check the WRL catalog for Made in the U.S.A.

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It’s interesting to me how “women of a certain age” are becoming younger every year.  How does that happen?  And when the “middle-aged woman” of the title turns out to be your own age, you start to wonder…

Anyway.

The question Rose Lloyd faces is one that practically defines humanity: how does one start over in the face of loss? Over the course of her life, Rose has faced every kind of loss—the death of a beloved father and the imminent demise of her mother; the growing up and away of her own children; and a traumatic parting of the ways with the man she thought her soulmate. Now, the ultimate loss: her identity as a wife and a professional woman. Her husband leaves her for another woman, and the publisher of the newspaper where she edits the book section decides he wants a younger, fresher product to capture younger, fresher subscribers. Those betrayals are concocted by the same person, Minty, the young assistant she groomed and with whom she traded confidences.

And with the divorce settlement, she faces the loss of the house she has lovingly neglected, the garden she has painstakingly cultivated and the health insurance she’s relied on to care for her mother. In short, after every major prop in her life is stripped away she continues to lose the smaller ones that enabled her to build a comfortable life. Rightfully, she wonders if something else she has taken for granted will disappear and leave her completely vulnerable.

Another woman (or another author) might plot some delicious strike that would discredit Rose’s husband, humiliate his young lover, publicly expose the newspaper as a fraud teetering on financial ruin. Rose doesn’t even consider this. Instead, she begins rebuilding in the small ways that demonstrate the core strength of her character. As she reflects on and remembers her life, the reader comes to understand that only through her pain and previous losses has she developed the strength to start over.

There are no simple solutions in this story. Rose rightfully accepts that she contributed to the plateau her marital relationship had reached. Their easy partnership belied the growth her husband felt she was missing in him, but the price of that growth is painful to see in him. Minty (and what a perfect name for a seemingly callow young woman) is not a two-dimensional homewrecker. Rose watches as her children make their own relationship mistakes, but will neither rescue them nor chastise them; they have to grow up on their own. And the steps Rose begins to take offer no guarantees, but the sensation of being forced out of a role she had taken for granted offers its own kind of happiness.

Elizabeth Buchan has perfectly captured each of the characters, making them individuals whose joys and conflicts play out in the story. A couple of subplots also place Rose and her family in a three-dimensional world where actions have consequences that ripple in unexpected ways.  Those qualities may be fleshed out in the sequel to Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman, Wives Behaving Badly, so readers interested in post-chick lit might want to check that out as well.

Check the WRL catalogue for Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman

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