Complex, coded, and creepy—these are the three words I’d ascribe to this book. Also, completely original in concept but not completely smooth in execuComplex, coded, and creepy—these are the three words I’d ascribe to this book. Also, completely original in concept but not completely smooth in execution.
Through journal entries, transcripts of audio and video recordings, excerpts from emails, letters, newspaper clippings, and research tomes, the story unfolds: how A., a 20-something Briton, inherits a magnificent house and correspondingly huge fortune from Ambrose, a previously-unknown distant American relative; how A. and his teenaged friend Niamh (a mute Irish female who more than vaguely reminds me of a slightly more well-adjusted Lisbeth Salander) come to America and claim the house and fortune; how they almost immediately realize that there are supernatural enhancements to their property. But a ghost is the least of their issues—soon A. is having vivid and often terrible dreams and quite possibly being driven to insanity, and both he and Niamh are discovering secret rooms and cryptic coded messages from dearly departed Ambrose. It’s becoming apparent that Ambrose was part of an esoteric, secret society, the members of which converge on Axton House every year—and are about to do so again.
This is the kind of book that one might need to read more than once or twice to really get the whole story and appreciate its sophistication; however, the sometimes-vague inferences, as well as the tedious scenes of code-breaking, likely will bore or frustrate a great many of us who are in possession of much intelligence but little patience for codes, ciphers, and puzzles. ...more
Having never read Philip Gulley’s Harmony series, I had no attachment to this small town when I began reading A Place Called Hope. That’s just as wellHaving never read Philip Gulley’s Harmony series, I had no attachment to this small town when I began reading A Place Called Hope. That’s just as well, as within a few chapters, I was ready to burn the village down, and not to save it. Fortunately, the main character of this book, Quaker minister Sam Gardner, has finally come to see it this way—when he steps in for the ill Unitarian minister to perform a wedding, he realizes too late that it’s a same-sex wedding, and it gives his enemies all the fodder they need to force his resignation, which, after years of dealing with gossip, backstabbing, and intrigue (from Quakers!), Sam is only too happy to give. But what comes next for him? His wife, the long-suffering Barbara, has returned to work, his sons are flying the nest, and he’s out of a job. The times they are a-changin’…An opening in the Friends Meeting in Hope, Indiana appears to offer the chance of a new job and a new start, but Sam will have to accept the fact that he will have to finally move away from his beloved Harmony. (Spoiler alert: the title, along with the fact that this is a NEW series) kind of gives away the ending.
Now I don’t read enough “cozies” or “gentle fiction” to remember this, but I really ought to: a good cozy book doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself, your life, or the world. It makes you feel good about yourself as you are, by focusing on very flawed humans who still come around to making decent life choices. Is that reality? Not usually, no. Could it be? Certainly, I believe so. Is it because I’ve read a few cozies in my day? Most likely. But when I sink my teeth into a good cozy, I’m happy to feel this way. And yay! A Place Called Hope is a solidly good cozy.
The author has a great way of highlighting peoples’ flaws and foibles in a way that’s loving and accepting—gentle mocking is overtly absent, but it’s present nonetheless by the very fact that the author DOES highlight these flaws and foibles. That’s part of what makes this such a fun and funny book, and it doesn’t hurt that there’s no sanctimony or piousness or judging going on. Sam’s wife Barbara is an exceptionally beguiling character, and Sam’s own flaws make him endearing, too. The only reason I can’t give this five stars is that it lacks a distinct sense of place, which I simply MUST have in any book set in Indiana. Can’t wait for the next book in the series! ...more
“It’s a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” I’m not sure about the first part, but the second part certainly seems applicable when you view the Ir“It’s a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” I’m not sure about the first part, but the second part certainly seems applicable when you view the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts through the lens of this book…the only difference being, “it’s a poor woman’s fight.”
Focusing on three women from the Indiana National Guard, this book explores their experiences of these conflicts, and how they re-acclimated to civilian wars. Of the three soldiers, two of them, Michelle and Desma, come from clearly straitened financial backgrounds and broken homes, although only Michelle joined explicitly for the financial incentives. (Desma joined on a dare.) The third woman, Debbie, is older (about to be a grandmother, actually) and has had time to make her way in the world, but she’s certainly not a wealthy person. In fact, it seems like most of the soldiers encountered within this book had joined for financial reasons, which leaves one wondering if the composition of the entire army relies on the existence of an economically disadvantaged class.
Yet this is not a book about class. If anything, this is a book about gender, and equality, and the inherent similarities of us all when we are placed in extraordinary circumstances. Michelle, Desma, and Debbie, all of whom joined the Guard before September 11, of course found their expectations dramatically altered after the terrorist attacks—drilling one weekend a month and for a few weeks each summer was no longer their chief obligation to the US; their training increased and they were eventually deployed to Afghanistan in 2004, as part of a mixed-gender regiment, and then later, Desma and Debbie to Iraq. There were certainly fewer females than males in their regiments, but each of the three women held their own—at the end of the day, while they experienced attentions both wanted and unwanted, while they experienced discrimination, harassment, support, and encouragement from their male colleagues and superiors, they essentially felt the same boredom, fear, frustration, loneliness, stress, and PTSD as their male counterparts.
Whether you are pro-war or anti-war, this is a book that will make you think and keep you riveted from beginning to end. ...more
These days, it hardly merits more than a passing remark: two women establish a house and business together and spend the next 30 years working, lovingThese days, it hardly merits more than a passing remark: two women establish a house and business together and spend the next 30 years working, loving, and living side-by-side as spouses. But in early 19th century America, it hardly seems possible. Yet this is just what Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake did in 1800s New England. Were they truly wife and wife? And if so, how did they manage to pull it off?
Cleves, a professor of history, takes on the study of these questions by analyzing the family memoirs, poetry, and correspondences, and comparing them to the prevailing style of literature of the day, and sussing out and interpreting for us non-literary types the arcane references to love, sex, passion, and spouses. How did the community allow it? (Accepting their partnership by ignoring the sexual component.) WHY did the community allow it? (Turns out Drake and Bryant established themselves as important, stable pillars of the community, offering religious support and instruction, financial assistance, public service, and employment.)
It's not the most riveting of reads--particularly the analyses of the poetry--and it's clear that Cleves hasn't quite got the knack yet for transforming her research into popular nonfiction for the non-academic crowd. But it's still interesting material and a valuable contribution to the GLBTQ history of America. ...more
Frail, ailing Lucy is eleven years old when her curmudgeonly father sends her off to Egypt to recover from the typhus that nearly killed her. It’s theFrail, ailing Lucy is eleven years old when her curmudgeonly father sends her off to Egypt to recover from the typhus that nearly killed her. It’s there that Lucy’s life changes, undeniably for the better—she befriends young Frances, an American girl accompanying her parents on the widely-famed archaeological dig through the Valley of Kings. Through her friendship with Frances, Lucy begins to recover and take an interest in the fascinating group of characters searching out an unmolested pharaoh’s tomb—Lord Carnarvon and his daughter Eve, tetchy Howard Carter, as well as many others in their entourage. Lucy is, of course, a bit young to comprehend the intrigue and politics surrounding the dig, but not too young to be bewitched by the adventure—so much that, many decades after the discovery of King Tutenkhamen’s tomb, she still remembers, and comes to share the memories with a documentarian.
Unfortunately for the plot, since this is told through the voice of a (fictional) on-looker, we are treated to many details from Lucy’s own (again, fictional) complicated life and her sometimes fraught relations with her father, her governess-turned-stepmother Nicola, and Nicola’s maybe-lover Clair. All of this is fascinating and would make a good story in its own right, but unnecessarily bloats this story beyond a point that’s wieldy. Too bad, as the parts are worthy—but alas, the sum is not so much. ...more
If you have a toxic parent—or especially, a parent inclined towards hoarding behaviors—approach this book very very carefully. Make sure you’re in a sIf you have a toxic parent—or especially, a parent inclined towards hoarding behaviors—approach this book very very carefully. Make sure you’re in a strong emotional place, because this story of hippie and aspiring hoarder Lorelai, and how she drives her family away, can be a bit tough if you have personal experience with this subject matter. Still, a gripping read, if a wee bit on the messy-domestic-drama side—which is perhaps a good thing, for it keeps the book interesting without being too heavy or depressing. ...more
Food writer and journalist Kathleen Flinn has gone many places, and tasted many things…but I daresay that she’s managed to stay true to her MidwesternFood writer and journalist Kathleen Flinn has gone many places, and tasted many things…but I daresay that she’s managed to stay true to her Midwestern roots. Those roots break through and flourish in this enormously appetizing memoir of her family’s background and her own childhood in Michigan. Each anecdote she offers has food centered at the heart or on the periphery of the story, and each chapter ends with a recipe of the main food mentioned. The recipes sound both solidly Midwestern and tantalizingly delicious (i.e., oven-fried chicken, bread and butter pickles, Hot German potato salad) but they never overshadow the true heart of the story—one family’s enduring love and support through the highs and lows of 20th century America. Anyone yearning for the sensible, get-on-with-it, community-minded ideal of Middle America, and the attendant aphorisms and truisms, should read this book and revel in it.
In summary: If there is such a thing as comfort food (and goodness, yes there is) well then, why can’t there be such a thing as comfort reading? And what if there were something that could combine BOTH? Well, in this book, I’ve found such a combination, and was able to relish in it without gaining a single pound. (But then, I haven’t tried any of the book’s recipes, yet.)
Like many a “New Woman”, Dorothy Richardson has decided to try to make her own way in the world, and comes to live in 1900s London. And despite the loLike many a “New Woman”, Dorothy Richardson has decided to try to make her own way in the world, and comes to live in 1900s London. And despite the long hours at her underpaid job, despite the near-penury in which she lives, despite the loneliness, she is alive and independent and relying on no one but herself. And yet…emotional comfort (and physically comforting surroundings) come her way when she renews the acquaintance of an old school friend, now happily(?) married to the up-and-coming novelist, H.G. Wells. Weekend after weekend, Dorothy visits her friends, until her growing attraction to Wells eclipses all loyalty and common sense.
Their affair is inevitable, and rather predictable—but what really emerges from Dorothy’s struggles is her growing desire for agency, her own voice, and her own path in the world, which she ultimately forges, but not without great sacrifice. I had never heard of the novelist Dorothy Richardson before, but this piece compelling and emotionally-loaded historical fiction makes me want to read her! ...more
The beautiful thing about the fantasy genre is that, if you do it right, anything goes. If you build a world solidly enough, no one is going to bat an The beautiful thing about the fantasy genre is that, if you do it right, anything goes. If you build a world solidly enough, no one is going to bat an eye at magic or kraken or, you know, empowered women, because hey! It’s fantasy!
So it’s not at all unbelievable, the plot at the core of this fantasy by Lackey: the royal duke and duchess of Swansgaard, realizing the difficulty of birthing twelve daughters before the long-needed son (it’s a patriarchal line), quickly begin training their daughters for the day when, lacking dowries, they must be turned loose on the world. Each daughter must choose a trade to excel in; the eldest, Clarice, becomes a very capable swords-mistress. And when she turns 18, she sets forth to make her fortune and find adventure. In short course, she finds herself cross-dressing as a unbearded youth, Clarence, aboard a ship bound for the New World. But pirates, enchanted amulets, mutiny, and a very handsome new captain turn all of her plans on their head, and it takes all of Clarice’s wiles to come out alive, in love, and with answers to the strange encounters she witnesses on the high seas.
Definitely on the lighter side of fantasy (I’m not sure fans of The Game of Thrones will appreciate it) but Lackey can tell a story well enough to keep me committed to reading it—and come back for the books about Clarice’s sisters! ...more