Shields, Carol. The Box Garden. New York: Open Road Media, 2013.
Reason read: Carol Shields was born in June. Read in her honor.
In a nutshell, Box Garden paints an uneasy picture of a grown woman returning home to attend the wedding of her elderly mother. Charleen lives a very unsettled life. Divorced. Single mom. Dating. Strained relationships with everyone around her. She lives a sparse life by choice and seems incredibly fragile. However, when confronted with a series of intensely emotional situations, Charleen emerges as a surprisingly strong and capable woman.
As an aside, the very first thing that struck me about The Box Garden was the uncomfortable realization Charleen Forrest’s mother could have been my mother. I found myself highlighting passages that struck a chord with me. Every missed opportunity for a kind word, a hint of compassion. It was unnerving.
Author fact: Even though Shields was born in the United States, she is considered a celebrated Canadian author.
Book trivia: The Box Garden is one of Shield’s less popular titles.
Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about The Box Garden.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Carol Shields: Too Good To Miss” (p 197).
Young, E. H. Miss Mole. New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1985
Reason read: Miss Mole was supposed to be this quick, under 300 page easy read I could bang out in a week’s time. Instead it turned out to be a slog I put down and then forgot to pick back up…for eight weeks. Oops.
Confessional: In the beginning, I didn’t care for Hannah Mole. In the beginning I was questioning myself, was I supposed to like Hannah Mole? Possibly not, since this was included in the More Book Lust chapter called “Viragos.” After finishing the book and with careful consideration, I think I am supposed to see Hannah as an independent, plucky, middle aged woman who barges through life with integrity, wit and humor. She had a prejudice against nonconformist ministers, tells small lies (don’t we all?), and keeps secrets. The more Miss Mole’s personality blossomed, the more I admired her. Plucky! As my grandmother used to say.
As an aside, I don’t know why Hannah Mole would subject herself to being a companion for a succession of crotchety old women. As a middle aged spinster, she starts working for Reverend Corder. It seems as if she has traded in her difficult women for a pompous ass.
Line I liked, “I was wondering if the best wives are the ones who are not married” (p 41).
Author fact: Miss Mole is considered Young’s best work.
Book trivia: Miss Mole won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1930.
Nancy said: Pearl said Miss Mole was a virago you should not miss.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust from, as I’ve said several times over, the chapter called “Viragos” (p 227).
Parkin, Gaile. Baking Cakes in Kigali. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.
Reason read: the Rwanda genocide happened on April 6th, 1994. Read in memory of that event.
Respected as a skilled baker in her new Rwandan community, Angel Tungaraza also acts as a voice of reason and likes to solve her customer’s problems whether they ask for her help or not (think of a bartender or hair dresser; someone who can listen to one’s woes and offer advice for the sheer sake of chitchat). Drawing from her life in Tanzania, she manages to help her friends and neighbors in unique ways. Angel isn’t without her faults, though. She protects her reputation fiercely and can come across as snobbish when she doesn’t approve of the cake someone else has baked or designed. If the customer chooses colors and styles that are “boring” in Angel’s opinion she secretly scoffs at them. She also carries a secret shame; one that she cannot even admit to herself.
Throughout Baking Cakes in Kigali I was comparing Angela to Angela Lansbury in “Murder, She Wrote.” Only instead of murders, Angel Tungaraza muddles her way through issues such as adultery, ritual cutting, equal rights for women, and racial prejudices; tackling the aftershocks of societal catastrophes such as AIDS and the Rwandan genocide.
Author fact: Parkin also wrote When Hoopoes Go to Heaven which is not on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: Many, many people compared Baking Cakes in Kigali to Alexander McCall Smith’s series.
Nancy said: Pearl called Baking Cakes in Kigali “charming.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 8).
Dangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. Oxford: Ayebia Clarke Publishing, 2004.
Reason read: March is African Writers Month.
Line I liked a lot, “She began to prepare me for disappointment long before I would have been forced to face up to it” (p 20).
As an adult recalling her childhood, Tambudzai remembers spending most of her formative years constantly questioning the right action to take, not only as a representative of her Rhodesian culture, but as a woman in a male dominated society. It is the 1960s and her missionary uncle has given her the opportunity to attend his school. He is the provider, the all-powerful headmaster, capable of shaping Tambu’s future or tearing it down on a whim. She recalls enduring endless lectures from him, nagging reminders of how lucky she was to be given the opportunity for mental emancipation. She wouldn’t have gotten the chance had his first choice, her brother, not died. Indeed, as soon as Tambu entered his household Tambu began to learn new things: how to hold a fork, the proper way to use a toilet, take a bath, or shut out a light. She endures a love-hate relationship with her cousin, a girl with the same restless desires to break free of societal trappings.
Favorite line, “Her seriousness changed from sweet, soft dove into something more like a wasp” (p 101).
Author fact: Dangarembga has written a great deal, but I am only reading Nervous Conditions for the Challenge. This is her first novel.
Book trivia: Nervous Conditions was Dangarembga’s first novel.
Nancy said: after Pearl wrote Book Lust people started to ask her about titles she had omitted. Nervous Conditions was one such title. Pearl called the opening line to Nervous Conditions “provocative.”
BookLust Twist: This is a popular one: from Book Lust in the chapter “African Literature in English” (p 16). Also in More Book Lust in two places, the introduction (p xi), and again in the chapter called “Lines that Linger, Sentences that Stick” (p 140).
Wallis, Velma. Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival. New York: Perennial, 1993.
Reason read: Seward Day is in March.
Two old women do not know each other very well before being abandoned by their People. Surviving the wilds of Arctic Circle Alaska is serious business, especially when you are elderly. Winter is closing in, food is scarce, and it is time for the tribe to be moving on. The Athabaskan Chief and his Council make the tough decision to leave their weakest behind in order to survive the harsh elements. This means seventy-five year old Sa’ and eighty year old Ch’idzigyaak are left to fend for themselves: finding food, making clothes, securing shelter, and staving off loneliness. These women are tough and resourceful, which makes for great perseverance.
Spoiler alert. This has a happy ending so you know the women survive. That wasn’t the plot twist for me. What I didn’t expect was the women’s fear of their tribe “finding” them again. They were suspicious of potential malevolent behavior (including cannibalism) if they were discovered to have survived. Even when they are reunited with their People, it takes time to trust them again. Who can blame them?
In my modern day society, I thought could not imagine a society where a community leaves its elderly behind, knowing full well they will probably will die. But then again, oh wait. I do. Italy, March 2020. They had to make the hard decision to not offer ventilators to anyone over the age of 80. Survival of the fittest.
Quote I liked best, “The body needs food but the mind needs people” (p 65).
Author fact: Wallis was born in the Alaskan interior. Two Old Women is her first novel.
Book trivia: Two Old Women was illustrated by James Grant.
Nancy said: Pearl actually didn’t chose Two Old Women. She asked author Dana Stabenow to select some Alaskan titles. Stabenow said Two Old Women is very controversial in Alaska.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “All Set For Alaska” (p 15).
Kennedy, Kate. More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Maine Women. Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 2005.
Reason read: to satisfy a Portland Public Reading Challenge category: Maine history.
More Than Petticoats is a series of biographies focusing on historically significant women by location. I believe every state in the country has a book and some states, like California, have a second volume. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge, I read More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Maine Women. Thirteen biographies of some women you might know and others you may not recognize: Marguerite-Blanche Thibodeau Cyr, Kate Furbish, Abbie Burgess Grant, Lillian M.N. Stevens, Sarah Orne Jewett, Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby, Lillian “La Nordica” Norton, Josephine Diebitsch Peary, Florence Nicolar Shay, Marguerite Thompson Zorach, Florence Eastman Williams, Sister R. Mildred Barker, and Margaret Chase Smith. From 1738 – 1995. I love Maine’s rich history. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Sarah Orne Jewett, Franklin Pierce. I could go on and on.
As an aside, my sister takes pictures of a water fountain close to her library. I now know the history of the girl: the Women’s Christian Temperance Union dedicated the fountain to Lillian M.N. Stevens. Very cool.
Confessional: I want to visit Abbie Burgess Grant’s grave. According to Kennedy, Grant is buried in the Forest Hill Cemetery in South Thomaston. Her final resting place should be easy to find. Her headstone is the one with the lighthouse.
I also want to visit Sarah Orne Jewett’s house in South Brunswick. I hear it’s open to the public. I should just go on a Maine Women vacation.
Winspear, Jacqueline. Maisie Dobbs. Narrated by Rita Barrington. Hampton, NH: BBC Audiobooks America, 2005.
Reason read: March is International Women’s Month. I am also reading this for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading Challenge. The category is “a cozy mystery.” I took “cozy” to mean a mystery without violence; no bombs exploding or crazy gun fights. Nothing fast paced; no cars screaming around corners on two wheels. Maybe “cozy” includes a sleeping cat or a steaming cup of tea.
Nancy Pearl should have included Maisie Dobbs in her list of characters she would like to befriend because I would like to hang out with Ms Dobbs myself. Maisie is one of those can’t-do-wrong girls that everyone, men and women alike, fall in love with. She is smart, pretty, loyal, and keenly perceptive.
We first meet Maisie Dobbs in 1910. After her mother dies, Maisie, at the age of thirteen, takes a job as a maid for Lady Rowan Compton. Living in the Compton mansion is a far cry from her father’s humble costermonger home and inquisitive Maisie can’t help but explore every richly decorated room, especially the well stocked library. Night after night she is drawn to sneaking down the stairs and taking advantage of the massive collection. When discovered, Lady Rowan does not seek punishment. Rather, recognizing a talent for learning, rewards Maisie with extensive tutoring from family friend, Maurice Blanche. Blanche is a private investigator who uses psychology and acute observation to solve mysteries. Maisie becomes his apprentice and subsequently takes over the business after Blanche’s retirement. One case takes Maisie back to her days as a volunteer nurse during the Great War. The plot takes a turn down memory lane as Maisie’s wartime ghosts are revealed. A second mystery concerning the love of Maisie’s life emerges.
War is a constant character throughout Maisie Dobbs, whether the reader is looking back to Maisie’s volunteer work as a nurse in France, or looking ahead to the mysterious retreat for disfigured veterans. The psychology of war is ever present.
Favorite line, “Dawn is a home when soft veils are draped across reality, creating illusion and cheating truth” (p 249).
Author fact: Winspear wrote a ton of books but I am only reading Maisie Dobbs for the Book Lust Challenge.
Book trivia: Maisie Dobbs is Winspear’s first novel and won an Edgar Award.
Nancy said: Pearl said Winspear does a outstanding job of conveying post-World War I English society. I would also add Winspear does an outstanding job of conveying post traumatic stress and other debilitating effects of war.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).
Briscoe, Connie. A Long Way From Home. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.
Reason read: Briscoe’s birth month is Devember. Read in her honor.
Clara starts off as a nearly eleven year old slave, owned by former president James Madison. As she grows up, she struggles to conform to the polite, obedient, and subservient ways of her mother and aunts, all house slaves in the Montpelier mansion. The inevitable and imminent death of President Madison means unclear futures for all of his slaves, field and house. Whispered questions like, ‘when he finally died would they be freed?’ ‘Could they stay on the plantation, especially if it is all they ever knew?’ scatter through hallways like runaway marbles on a tile floor. Would Madison’s slaves even have a choice? What no one saw coming was Madison’s awful stepson, Todd, taking over as Massa of Montpelier. His attraction to Clara sets off a terrible chain of events and life changes for everyone involved.
This is supposed to be the story of three generations of house slaves: Susie, Clara, and Susan. Susie is barely in the story, but Clara passes on her feisty nature to her daughter Susan. When Susan is sold away to satisfy a debt, readers follow her coming of age, growth into womanhood, and emerging sense of independence.
Aside from a great character story, A Long Way From Home is a fantastic historical fiction. Events of the Civil War described in detail color the fate of the south and give the story an interesting perspective.
Telling quotes, “These days, no one wearing a skirt at Montpelier ever slept alone when Mass Todd and his buddies were around” (p 70).
Author fact: According the back flap of A Long Way From Home Briscoe is a descendant of the slaves on the Madison family plantation. This story is her story.
Book trivia: I could see this made into a movie. It has an important story to tell so why isn’t it a movie?
Nancy said: Pearl said to consider A Long Way From Home for the reading list when considering African American fiction written by women.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African American Fiction: She Says” (p 16).
Thomas, Maria. Antonia Saw the Oryx First. New York: Soho, 1987.
Reason read: August is Friendship Month.
Antonia Redmond and Esther Moro have an interesting relationship as they couldn’t be anymore different from one another. Antonia, an educated white woman, was born to American parents but has lived in Dar es Salaam, Africa nearly all of her life. As a doctor, she has been schooled in traditional modern medicine. Meanwhile, Esther Moro is on the other end of the spectrum as a woman who sells her body to make ends meet. “She knows only men” as the band The Horseflies would say. After a particularly violent encounter with a Greek fisherman Esther and Antonia meet as patient and doctor. At first Esther wants Antonia to teach her the rules of modern medicine, but soon discovers she has the power to heal within her already. Esther listens to her culture’s whisperings of witchcraft, ancient legends, and curses.
Author fact: Maria Thomas was a pen name for Roberta Worrick. She died in a plane crash was she was only 47 years old.
Book trivia: Two pieces of trivia, actually. Antonia Saw the Oryx First was Thomas’s first novel. She also wrote African Visas which is on my Challenge list for May 2031.
Nancy said: Pearl doesn’t say anything specific about the book or the author; just describes the plot a little.
BookLust Twist: Twice from Book Lust. Once in the chapter called “African Colonialism: Fiction” (p 14) and also in the Book Lust chapter “Women’s Friendships” (p 247).
Last month (okay, yesterday!) I whined about how I have been feeling uninspired writing this blog. I think it’s because I haven’t really been in touch with what I’ve been reading. None of the books in July jump started my heart into beating just a little faster. “Dull torpor” as Natalie would say in the Maniacs song, Like the Weather. Maybe it comes down to wanting more oomph in my I’mNotSureWhat; meaning I don’t know if what I need or what would fire me up enough to burn down my yesterdays; at least so that they aren’t repeated tomorrow. I’m just not sure.
Hopefully, these books will do something for me:
- African Queen by Cecil Forester – in honor of the movie. Can I be honest? I’ve never seen the movie!
- Antonia Saw the Oryx First by Maria Thomas (EB/print) – in honor of August being Friendship month.
- Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object (EB/print) by Laurie Colwin – in honor of August being National Grief Month.
- Strong Motion by Jonathan Frazen (EB/print) – in honor of August being Frazen’s birth month.
- Beauty: the Retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley (EB/print) – in honor of August being Fairy Tale month.
- Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge (EB/print) – in memory of Florence Nightingale. August is her death month.
- American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood by Maria Arana (EB/print) – a memoir in honor of August being “Selfish Month.”
- If there is time: What Just Happened by James Gleick – in honor of Back to School month.
- Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov (EB/print) – the penultimate book in the Foundation series.
- Die Trying by Lee child (AB/EB/print) – the second book in the Jack Reacher series.
- Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm (started in July).
- Open Water by Mikael Sturm.
“…April is over. Will you tell me how long before I can be there?”
-The Painted Desert, 10,000 Maniacs
I will have that song playing in my head from now until June. Not only am I planning to be there, the trip cannot happen soon enough. But for the purposes of this post: April is over and here are the books accomplished:
- The Warden by Anthony Trollope.
- The City and the House by Natalia Ginzburg (EB & print).
- Summer at Fairacre by Miss Read (EB).
- Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding.
- All Souls by Javier Marias (EB & print).
- All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor (AB and print).
- Sixpence House by Paul Collins (EB & print).
- Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs.
- Hunting Season by Nevada Barr (EB and print).
- The Game by Laurie R. King (AB/AB/print).
- Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith (EB & print)
- Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov (EB)
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Red Earth: a Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness by Denise Uwimana
- Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – Yes! I finally finished it!
Barr, Nevada. Hunting Season. Read by Barbara Rosenblat. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2002.
Reason read: to finish the series started in honor of Barr’s birth month in March.
The premise of the series is main character Anna Pigeon is a ranger assigned to different American parklands. Every time Pigeon shows up somewhere she’s confronted with a mystery (most of the time with a murder or two or three attached). You have to wonder how she doesn’t develop a stigma from all these coincidental deaths wherever she goes. She never seems to find littering her biggest problem.
This time Pigeon is stationed at Mt. Locust, a historic inn located on Mississippi’s Natchez Trace Parkway. Two different crimes have her attention, the murder of Doyce Barnette and suspected poaching activity. Are the two related? All clues point toward Doyce being the apparent victim of a sex game gone wrong but true to mystery, nothing is adding up. Anna, as a woman and new to the area, has a difficult time being the boss of male rangers, some who have been around longer than she has.
Confessional: I knew who the killer was within the first 100 pages. It took me a few more to make absolutely sure but the clues Barr left were glaringly obvious. I was hoping she would pull a fast one and make the suspect Anna’s biggest ally. That I wouldn’t have seen coming.
Idiot move: Once again, I am reading a series out of order. Last month I read Flashback and at the end Pigeon agreed to marry her newly divorced boyfriend. Now, in Hunting Season Pigeon is lamenting the death of her first husband while silently cursing her married boyfriend.
Author fact: Barr does a great job keeping Anna Pigeon’s personality and life history accurate. Anna’s family life, love interests, personality, and even acquired scars stay consistent.
Book Audio trivia: Barbara Rosenblat isn’t half bad with the accents, although her Mississippi drawl could be called just “southern.”
Nancy said: nada; nothing specific about Hunting Season.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 117).
I have a ridiculous number of books planned for this month. I have no idea what I was thinking.
- The Warden by Anthony Trollope – in honor of Trollope’s birth month being in April.
- City and the House by Natalie Ginsberg – in honor of April being Letter Writing month.
- All Souls by Javier Marias – in honor of Oxford Jazz Festival traditionally being in April.
- All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor – in honor of April being Sibling month and in honor of Library Week.
- The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs – in honor of John Muir’s birth month (and the fact we are visiting Arizona soon).
- Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins – in honor of Library Week.
- Hunting Season by Nevada Barr to finish the series read out of order.
- The Game by Laurie R. King – to finish the series started in honor of Female Mystery month.
- Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith – to finish the series started in honor of Smith’s birth month.
- The Council of the Cursed by Peter Tremayne – to continue the series started in honor of Tremayne’s birth month.
- Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- From Red Earth: a Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness by Denise Uwiemana.
What can I say about the previous month? Career-wise it was a busy month. I’m short staffed, budgets were due, accreditation teams loomed large, and my hockey team was breaking new records left and right. On the personal front friends were going through personal crisis after personal crisis (Just so you know, bad things are more than capable of arriving in multiples of five and six, not just three), I’m hip deep in planning a southwest trip with my sister and her sons, my mom’s dog is on Viagra, and! And. And, there was a little road race I always obsess about way too much. Somewhere in there I had a little time to read:
- Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais
- Topper by Thorne Smith
- Giant by Edna Ferber
- ADDED: Flashback by Nevada Barr – in honor of Barr’s birth month. (AB)
- ADDED: White Sky, Black Ice by Stan Jones – on honor of Alaska.
- Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam
- Cherry by Sara Wheeler
- Gemini by Dorothy Dunnett – I admit, I did not finish this one.
- Blackout by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza
- Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov
- The Moor by Laurie R. King
- Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – still reading
- Sharp by Michelle Dean – finally finished
- Calypso by David Sedaris (AB)
- Living with the Little Devil Man by Lina Lisetta
- Hidden Southwest by Ray Riegert
- 1,000 Places to See Before You Die edited by Patricia Schultz
- Exploring the Southwest by Tammy Gagne
- Arizona, New Mexico and Grand Canyon Trips by Becca Blond
Early Review for Librarything:
- Nothing. The book did not arrive in time to be reviewed in March.
Dean, Michelle. Sharp: the Women Who Have Made an Art of Having an Opinion. New York: Grove Press, 2018.
Reason read: this was a gift from my sister. Of course I have to read it!
Ten women: Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm. What do all these women have in common, besides writing and being female? They all had sharp tongues and were not afraid to speak their minds. Michelle Dean sets out to give a mini biography of each “sharp” woman, make connections between them, and illustrate why they made her sharp list.
As an aside, I was confused by Dean’s treatment of Zora Neale Hurston in the West & Hurston chapter (p 59). It was obvious Hurston was not to be included as a “sharp” woman, so why include her as a connection to Rebecca West? Why include her in the chapter’s title? West and Hurston did not have much in common. In fact, the introduction of the Hurston material at the end of the chapter is clunky at best. Dean makes the lukewarm transition thus – Rebecca West had been out of her league covering a trial involving a lynching. Admittedly, Black journalist Ida B. Wells would have been more suited to the cause and, oh by the way, another Black writer who understood the state of prejudice and racism of the 1940s was Zora Neale Hurston. Dean then goes on to dedicate three pages to Hurston’s life and writing without much connectivity to Rebecca West or to the rest of the book. As a result those three pages end up sounding like an abbreviated and unintentional detour.
Additionally, were there absolutely no sharp women of color Dean could have included in her book; no one for more than a token few pages? I find it hard to believe there was not one woman of color who raised her voice loud enough to be heard by Dean.
Author fact: Dean won the 2016 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing.
Book trivia: This would have been a much richer book if Dean had secured permission to include one photographic portrait of each personality. As it was, only six of the ten sharp women made the cover. The other four were relegated to the back.