Lieutenant Eve Dallas is assigned to lead a high-profile murder investigation into the death of a Senator's granddaughter. But the granddaughter was a...moreLieutenant Eve Dallas is assigned to lead a high-profile murder investigation into the death of a Senator's granddaughter. But the granddaughter was a "licensed companion," i.e. prostitute, and she was murdered in a pretty graphic way. Working mostly alone, Dallas must find the murderer before he kills again.
I had such a love/hate relationship with this book at times. Mostly, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. But then Roarke, the drop-dead gorgeous bazillionaire and number 1 suspect (with an Irish accent, no less!), would do something that was supposed to be all hot and dominating, I assume, and irritate the absolute hell out of me. As a completely made-up example, let me offer this: "No, I'm not trying to seduce you right now, Lieutenant. When I do decide to seduce you, I won't be trying, I'll be doing it. And you'll like it more than you've ever liked anything in your life." Again, that is completely my own fabrication but it is true to how I perceived Roarke. I was hoping Eve would kick him in the balls a few times, just to bring his ego down to size. Either he got better as the book progressed or I resigned myself to him, but either way it didn't bother me as much by the end. I actually liked him a lot when he gave all that crap a rest.
Roarke's ego aside, I have to admit that I couldn't wait to get in my car and continue listening to this book. I don't really read romance novels, I guess because I assume it's all "heaving bosoms," etc. and my sense of humor would get in the way of all that mess. So I started this with some trepidation. I was hooked in the first half-hour.
I really liked Eve Dallas. She's a strong loner who obviously has a pretty messed-up past. She's a woman in a man's world, even in the near future of 2058, but she's doing well for herself. She refuses to be intimidated by the Senator or her own superiors. She is investigating this murder her way and she knows she'll crack it if they'll just leave her alone.
I kind of guessed whodunnit pretty early on. There was much more to it than I expected though and I was honestly shocked when everything was revealed. I do wonder if the narrator may have unconsciously clued me in a little. One voice was pretty creepy with no real reason and that was the person I zeroed in on.
I did love Susan Ericksen's narration. Her characters had voices that were just distinct enough that I could easily keep track of who was speaking without being distracting. I would definitely listen to more books she's narrated.
I found the very, very end to be kind of silly and a little weak. Luckily that was short and followed some pretty intense action.
There was some pretty graphic violence toward women and girls in this book. If that's a trigger for you, you should stay away. It's never gratuitous or presented as anything other than sick and disgusting, but it is definitely there.
Otherwise, I recommend this if you think you can overlook Roarke's raging ego. Eve is a strong heroine and the resolution was a surprise. I'll be continuing the series on audio.(less)
Alba Ashby is mortified. On the cusp of a brilliant career as a historian, she's lost everything, including her hope. Then she finds herself at the ho...moreAlba Ashby is mortified. On the cusp of a brilliant career as a historian, she's lost everything, including her hope. Then she finds herself at the house at the end of Hope Street. Peggy, the eccentric caretaker of the home, invites Alba in and starts to regale her with stories of the house's more famous residents. It seems that every woman who has ever been anyone has stayed at the house at a time in their lives when they desperately needed hope as well. Peggy invites Alba to stay, but she only has 99 nights to resolve her issues and leave the house.
With a comparison to Jasper Fforde, Lev Grossman, and Sarah Addison Allen in the book blurb, I had high hopes for this. I don't know exactly how all of those authors fit in, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book anyway.
The book mostly centers around Alba but it's also the story of Peggy and two other women staying at the house, Greer and Carmen. There were aspects of each woman that I think will resonate with all of us. I couldn't help but root for them, hope they worked out their problems, and wish them all their happily-ever-afters.
I want to live in this house, let me tell you. It readily dispatches advice (asked-for or not), has a knack for supplying exactly what you need, and giving you the tools you need to succeed. The walls are lined with photos of past residents who also form a sort of Greek chorus, commenting on events and offering their opinions. When Dorothy Parker, Agatha Christie, or Vita Sackville-West speak up, a wise woman listens. There's also a resident ghost but the only person who sees her is Alba. They form an instant friendship, something sadly lacking in young Alba's lonely life.
I do hate to sound like a book blurb, but fans of Sarah Addison Allen really will enjoy this book. It's charming, whimsical, and full of hope.
Thanks to the publicist for providing me a copy for review.(less)
Jill Conner Browne writes a fictional account of how the Sweet Potato Queens came into being and how they truly became queens through some terrible de...moreJill Conner Browne writes a fictional account of how the Sweet Potato Queens came into being and how they truly became queens through some terrible decisions and heartbreak.
I absolutely loved the first chapter of this book. It was sheer perfection I tell you. It starts when the queens are in high school and haven't really figured out that they're queens yet. They are always being looked down upon by the high school beauty queen, a bitch if ever there was one. I was shrieking with laughter and doing a corny little fist pump all alone in my car by the time the chapter ended. "You tell her, Queens!" I was repeating the last few sentences of that chapter to anyone who would listen for days, complete with my best Southern drawl.
That was by far my favorite part. The Queens seem determined to make every mistake it is possible to make when it comes to love. There were still definitely some funny parts, but I had gotten so attached to these characters in that first chapter that I just wanted everything to go right for them. But I think Browne's ultimate message is that we are all Queens, no matter what horrendously bad decision we have made in our lives. We just need to pick ourselves back up, dust off our crowns, and start singing "Tiny Bubbles" again.
I am torn between recommending the print or audio versions. I listened to the audio, read by Browne herself, and had a blast listening to her. I am definitely a Southern girl, but up here in the Southern Appalachians, we have more of a twang, and Browne definitely has a drawl. I could listen to her talk all day, I swear. No matter the slight differences in accents, I think that Southerners all have a similar rhythm to our storytelling, so listening to her read this book just felt deeply right.
On the other hand, there were so many quotes I wanted to mark, but there was no way for me to do that! Maybe I'll check the print book out of the library and look for the best bits. One that I can sort of remember is something like, "She was letting that word fly. You know, the one we called the firetruck word back then because it began and ended in the same letters."
For a laugh-out-loud, ultimately feel-good book, go ahead and pick this up in whatever format tickles your fancy. It might not have quite lived up to the high expectations I had after the first chapter, but it is definitely a girl-power book, and we all need to read those every once in a while.(less)
Vida is 19 years old and dying. She's been dying her entire life. Not in the vague way that we are all destined to die, but in a way that has led her...moreVida is 19 years old and dying. She's been dying her entire life. Not in the vague way that we are all destined to die, but in a way that has led her through multiple heart surgeries in her short life. This time, it's for real. Her doctors are talking weeks if she's lucky. She's been bumped to the top of the waiting list for heart transplants. And then she gets a new heart and she's able to start living.
On the flip side, Richard has everything. A job and a wife that he loves. Until he loses Lorrie in a tragic car accident. He chooses to donate her organs and Vida gets her heart. Vida's and Richard's lives are forever entwined after that. The first time Richard walks into her hospital room after the transplant, Vida tells him that she loves him. She's never met him before, but she feels a deep, romantic love for him.
At my old job, I was the tiniest of tiny cogs in the transplant process. I did electrocardiograms on the donors so that doctors could make sure the heart was in good working order from an "electrical" standpoint. I was glad that the families had chosen to donate their loved ones' organs, but I hated that part of the job. I never saw the recipients (the actual transplant happened in larger hospitals), so I only saw the donors, and I knew that this beautiful child, wife, father, loved one would not be going home to his or her family. They were all beautiful and they were all young. I didn't do it often, but I was never able to detach myself from the sadness on that end. It was hard for me, to say the least.
It was nice to read a book where I could really sort of experience the life that comes out of such a tragic loss/beautiful gift. Vida, meaning life in Spanish, is a perfect mix of wisdom and innocence. She's led a very sheltered life by necessity. She hasn't been able to get out and run around and play, simply because her weak heart wouldn't let her. She's experienced most of her life from the inside of her house, looking out at the world through a window. Staring the reality of death down daily has led her to realize what is important in life though. Relationships, fairness, and honesty are always important to her. After the transplant, she wants to see as much of the world as she can and face everything on her own terms. She knows how much she's missed and she's making up for lost time.
Richard says something that really made me think. Vida's mother asks him why he decided to donate, and his first response is a stock reply of "Wouldn't anybody?" He talks through it a little and eventually comes to a reason that feels real. "I know why I donated. I wanted people to never forget her. As many as possible. This way I knew you would never forget her, and neither would Vida. And anybody who loved Vida. And the woman in Tiburon who got her corneas, she'll never forget Lorrie, and neither will her family and everybody who loves her. And I could go on with the other organs, but ... I wanted as big a group of people as possible to think about Lorrie on an ongoing basis. Not just get over it and forget." That's possibly one of the most compelling reasons I've ever come across for organ donation. Sure, saving a stranger's life should be the best reason, but in the throes of grief, it's got to be hard to think about that. Something that helps others remember your loved one? That might get through.
Vida's best friend is her neighbor, Ethel, a 90-ish concentration camp survivor. You know I'm drawn to concentration camp stories, so I liked the element. There was a reason for it though. After Vida's transplant, they have a thoughtful conversation about the purpose of a life that came so close to death. Ethel has lived her life in a bubble, almost afraid to live. Vida is choosing to seize the opportunity she's been given and squeeze everything she can out of it.
The biggest part of the book revolves around cellular memory. I don't think I've ever heard about this, but I'm curious. Apparently there's a hypothesis that our memories do not reside solely in our brain; our very cells might retain memories. Think about what that would mean in organ donation. Scientists are studying recipients who suddenly develop traits similar to the donors whose organs they've received, or even "remember" things that never happened to them but did happen to the donor. It was pretty fascinating. There's a brief overview at the San Francisco Medical Society page.
I liked the way things turned out. I won't go into it, I just wasn't sure that I was very happy with the obvious ending, but there was a twist that made me very happy.
I was expecting sort of a light chick-lit book when I started this. I'm left with a lot to think over, and I'm very happy about that. There's a lot going on in this short-ish novel. I recommend it.(less)
Elise Landau is a Jew living in Vienna before World War II. Her parents realize the danger they are facing and make plans for the family to leave the...moreElise Landau is a Jew living in Vienna before World War II. Her parents realize the danger they are facing and make plans for the family to leave the country. They must all go separate ways and Elise ends up working as a housemaid on an estate in England.
Being from an artistic family in the upper middle class, Elise finds it hard to adapt to life as a housemaid. It doesn't help that she desperately misses her family and barely speaks English. But things start to change when the master's son, Kit, comes home from college and starts tutoring her.
The book was charming and delightful but there were some things that just weren't perfect for me.
I felt that there was a bit too much of an influence from Rebecca and Jane Eyre. I love both books, but I don't want new books to feel like them; the new books will only suffer in the comparison. "When I close my eyes I see Tyneford House." Compare that to, "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." It wasn't just language, it was faint echoes in the scenes as well. It's hard to explain but it's there.
I also saw exactly where the book was going from very early on. I had moments where I thought I might be wrong but I wasn't. I wish it had been more of a surprise.
Otherwise, I did like this story of a house in World War II. I enjoyed seeing Elise go from an immature nineteen-year-old to a formidable woman. Her growth felt very natural. As she grew into her potential, I liked her more and more. Tyneford is loosely based on a real village called Tyneham. The things that happen to Tyneford closely shadow events at Tyneham. I had never heard of this place but it's a sad story. I never knew what life was like on the coast for British people during WWII either. Watching German planes and the RAF fighting air battles, sending out fishing boats to evacuate soldiers from France--life must have felt chaotic but it seems that the British people faced it with grace.
Having discovered Downton Abbey in the past six months or so, I was delighted to read about life among the servants. Inevitably, Wrexham the butler looked and sounded like Mr. Carson and Mrs. Ellsworth was Mrs. Hughes. It just added to the draw of the book for me.
I do recommend this book. It's a bittersweet romance with some very serious undertones. Fans of Downton Abbey should enjoy it as well.(less)
Morgan McClain and his brother are shipping out to Europe in the last year of WWII. They spend their last night in the States at a USO dance where the...moreMorgan McClain and his brother are shipping out to Europe in the last year of WWII. They spend their last night in the States at a USO dance where they meet Liz Stephens. Liz and Morgan immediately feel a connection, despite the fact that Liz is practically engaged to someone else. Complicated circumstances arise, as they do, and Morgan unwittingly finds himself dancing with Liz's friend, Betty, although he doesn't know the two women are friends. Betty promises to write him overseas. Flighty Betty asks Liz to help her write to Morgan. She intends to write one letter and be done with him. But when Morgan writes back, Liz receives the letter and can't get the author out of her head. She continues to write him as Betty throughout the war.
It sounds more complicated than it is. It's a Cyrano story set in WWII. 3.5 stars.
I liked it. The writing could be more polished, but I liked the characters and cared what happened to them. The snooty non-romance reader inside me would occasionally scoff at the likelihood of some of these events ever happening, but mostly I was able to shove that voice down and enjoy a charming story. We all need a dose of romance now and then, whether we admit it or not. And who am I to say this would never happen? We all agree that truth is stranger than fiction, right?
I really liked Morgan. He has no pretensions of being anything other than he is--a farm boy, albeit one with above-average intelligence. His ambitions are small and homey, and his interactions with others are honest and sincere. Liz was a good match for him, but the tone of her letters was overblown. I found myself rolling my eyes at her prose sometimes. Betty just might have sneaked her way in as my favorite character, at least right up until the very end. She takes an unexpected path and surprises herself at the inner strength she finds. Her actions at the end seem very out of character and I wasn't happy with that. There's another story about a third friend, Julia, and her sailor-fiance, Christian, but that took a backseat for me. I liked Julia though and I liked the way her story showed the way that women's roles in society were changing during this time.
If you're in the mood for a nice romance and you like the backdrop of WWII, go ahead and pick this up. I was left with a smile on my face. (less)
Sara Stevenson has shamed her family and has been exiled to a remote Scottish island for months. Along with her lady's maid, Kate; Kate's husband; and...moreSara Stevenson has shamed her family and has been exiled to a remote Scottish island for months. Along with her lady's maid, Kate; Kate's husband; and the lightkeeper, William, she will have to weather a long winter, unsure of the fate of her lover.
I thought this was pretty good. It's not exactly my typical read, but I still enjoyed it.
My one real problem was that it was a bit too romance-y. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just not my thing. There are some supernatural elements that just took it over the top for me. Don't get me wrong--I love fantasy, it just felt too "Love transcends all" for me.
Sara and her maid both irritated me at times. Sara is determined to do the exact opposite of what she's told, to the point that it's stupid and dangerous. "Don't go out today, Sara, a snowstorm is coming." So what does she do? She rides out. Of course. Because who doesn't want to get caught out on the moors or what have you in a snowstorm? She also jumps to some ridiculous conclusions about William and refuses to change her mind about him for an inordinate amount of time. The maid was a little holier-than-thou tattletale.
But at least Sara was independent and spoke her mind. I ended up liking her.
I liked William too. He's a tortured soul. He can be charming when he wants to be, but in the right mood, he's scary. I had an idea what his story was going to be from early on, but I still liked reading all about him. But then, I do like me a good Scottish man!
I wish I could remember more details, but I don't. Fans of Susanna Kearsley should give this one a try.(less)
Cassandra Moon, firmly in her 40s, is finally getting married. She's been taking care of others all her life and now she's looking forward to having s...moreCassandra Moon, firmly in her 40s, is finally getting married. She's been taking care of others all her life and now she's looking forward to having someone else take care of her for a change. All she has to do is walk down the aisle and say "I do." So why does she find herself in her wedding dress, driving like a bat out of hell in the honeymoon limo and heading for the coast, still a single woman? She must be crazy.
She ends up staying with her Aunt May and Uncle Walton in Salter Path, NC. She loved visiting there as a child and she's hoping to get some time to herself to figure out what she really wants. Everyone else is always telling her what she should want and she's tired of it. She just needs some downtime to get things straight in her own heart and mind.
I have enjoyed all of Pamela Duncan's books but this one is my favorite. Cassandra first showed up in Moon Women. In my review of that book, I wrote, "Poor Cassandra. I wasn't entirely happy with her story, but there's a glimmer of hope for her. I'll have to dive into The Big Beautiful soon to see how she ends up." I am much happier with her story now. She does a lot of growing up and thinking and gets a stronger backbone. I want to start praising her to the skies but I don't want to spoil anything. Her development and her reactions all felt real and right. She has a great big heart and I think she finally starts to focus on her strengths and blessings rather than her shortcomings. I just love books where women make that journey successfully.
The other characters in the book were a hoot! Aunt May and Doris were hilarious. They sparred all the time but their love for each other was apparent. Uncle Walton was wisely quiet and always there. Young Annie Laurie gave Cassandra someone to love on and look out for. Dennis and Hector were good foils for each other and for Cassandra. When I wasn't irritated with this bunch right along with Cassandra, I was wishing I could meet them in real life. They felt like family.
I loved the location! My family used to go on vacation every summer to Emerald Isle, NC and Salter Path is just up the island from there. I have a lot of great memories of that little town and long summer days with my extended family. It brought a smile to my face when I realized where Cassandra was.
The family and friends have formed a book/poker club (don't ask) and they read Persuasion with Cassandra. If you've followed my blog at all, you know that I love Captain Wentworth. There are parallels between spinster Anne Elliot and Cassandra. And there's a scene where the book club is reading "The Letter" out loud. I melt inside whenever I think of that letter. This isn't a huge part of the book but it only added to my enjoyment.
It helps a little to have read Moon Women before reading The Big Beautiful but I don't feel that it's necessary. If you do read them out of order, you'll come across some spoilers if you're really paying attention. Since the focus has shifted to the family on the coast, you would really have to have a good head for characters to really remember and connect them together though.
I highly, highly recommend this book. It was a joy to read and it left me with a huge smile on my face.(less)
Three generations of Moon women living in a small North Carolina town are trying to do the best they can in life. Grandmother Marvelle is trying to ha...moreThree generations of Moon women living in a small North Carolina town are trying to do the best they can in life. Grandmother Marvelle is trying to hang around long enough to pass on what she's learned to the next generation. Her wisdom is hard-earned and she knows the youngsters need it. Her daughters Ruth Ann and Cassandra are trying to figure out if the lives they are living are the lives they want. Ruth Ann's daughter Ashley is young but she's already old in experience. As the book opens, Ruth Ann is driving to Asheville to pick Ashley up from the rehab center where she's been staying. Ashley will be living with her now that she's been discharged. When they get back to their little town, Ashley drops the news that she's pregnant and Marvelle announces that she's moving in as well. Life is about to get interesting.
I loved this book. I met author Pamela Duncan at a book festival a few years ago and just chattered away at her. I never do that. I'm usually all tongue-tied at author signings and rarely get out more than "Please" and "Thank you." But it just felt like she was one of my kind of people and so I rattled on while she graciously listened.
This family of women felt like my family. We have a lot of women too and we love each other, irritate each other, get in each other's business, and cheer each other on. That's how these Moon women were. The story rotates between the four characters (Cassandra's part is small but she has a voice) and there was never a time when I wished I could get back to another storyline; I enjoyed them all. Each character is facing challenges that we can all relate to. I will admit that I wanted to reach in the pages and shake Ashley. "Will *shake* you *shake* PLEASE *vigorous shake* just *shake* wake *shake* up *shake* and *shake* let *shake* that *shake* sweet *shake* boy *shake* love *shake* you?!?!?" *tooth-rattling shake* I feel better for having written it out. She was stubborn beyond all reason.
Poor Cassandra. I wasn't entirely happy with her story, but there's a glimmer of hope for her. I'll have to dive into The Big Beautiful soon to see how she ends up.
For a book about strong women and their ties to each other, pick this one up. Is there higher praise than "These characters felt like my family?" I don't think so.(less)
Laurel Granger lived for her husband, Scott, then he left her for another woman. Depressed, rootless, and alone in Vegas, Laurel decides to head back...moreLaurel Granger lived for her husband, Scott, then he left her for another woman. Depressed, rootless, and alone in Vegas, Laurel decides to head back home to Russell, North Carolina. Without telling her parents what happened, she moves in with them. Well, it becomes obvious that Laurel isn't going back to Vegas and she needs a job. The only place that will hire her is the plant (factory) where her mother has worked for umpteen years. Laurel isn't happy to be going to work there, but at least it's a desk job. She finds herself a part of a group of women who have been friends and helped and hated each other for years. With their help, she starts to finally heal and move on.
I had never even heard of author Pamela Duncan until I saw her speak at a book festival I attended last year. I loved her. I agreed with everything she said and felt like she could be me talking. Plus, Lee Smith, who wrote one of my favorite books ever, was her teacher. I bought all three of Ms. Duncan's books, had her sign them, and actually had a delightful, short conversation with her. (Me at most signings: "How are you? My name is Jennifer. Yes, it's spelled the normal way. Thank you.")
I couldn't really justify buying three books for myself, so I gave this one to my mom. She has worked in a plant for about as long as I remember. I need to ask her more about what she thought of it, but from the outside looking in, this book looked like it was spot on. My mom has spoken of the same women for years and years. They mostly love each other. Some days, they do get on each other's nerves. But they are always there at the weddings and the funerals and in sickness and in health. That's the complicated relationship the author captured in this book.
This was funny and sad and everything in between. I was hoping for Laurel to find a good man, and I picked out the one I wanted her to have very quickly. I was frustrated with her when she didn't see how perfect he was. I was rooting for Laurel's mama Pansy to pull out of her issues. My heart hurt for her in her past. I didn't like Pansy's mama at first, but in her brief chapters, I started to understand her as well.
I recommend this for a lovely celebration of the complexity of female relationships.(less)
In this very slender graphic novel, Marjane Satrapi gives us a peek into the lives of Iranian women. Well, the romantic and sexual aspects of their li...moreIn this very slender graphic novel, Marjane Satrapi gives us a peek into the lives of Iranian women. Well, the romantic and sexual aspects of their lives anyway.
I felt like I was sitting in this roomful of multi-generational women as they gossiped about themselves, each other, and friends they knew. I think all women have sat in a group like this, when there aren't any men around, and said just exactly what we really think. It's not all ladylike and demure. This is the chance to be as ribald as you'd like.
I laughed so hard at some of these stories! They were hilarious!
Others were heartbreaking. I might not be able to relate to tales of arranged marriages, but I think most of us have enough imagination to understand how horrible it could be.
What I mostly took away from this is that, despite some cultural differences, women are women and men are men the world over. We have much more in common than we think.
If you aren't embarrassed by women talking frankly about sex and love, go ahead and pick this up. It only takes an hour or so to read, but it's very enjoyable.(less)
Lily Davis was only 17 when she married a boy she had known for a short time. He was shipping out to WWII soon as a supply man for Coca-Cola and it se...moreLily Davis was only 17 when she married a boy she had known for a short time. He was shipping out to WWII soon as a supply man for Coca-Cola and it seemed like the thing to do before he went away. Three years later, her hometown of Toccoa, Georgia has scheduled a big homecoming party for all the returning soldiers, including parades and fireworks. Lily stumbles into Jake Russo, the fireworks man, as he's setting up his show and he opens up a world of possibilities for her.
This just isn't my kind of book. I love the cover, I love that it's set at the end of World War II in a town that isn't that far from my own. I was a little afraid that it would have more in common with a Nicholas Sparks novel than I would like, but I took a chance on it anyway.
As far as I'm concerned, it could have been written by Nicholas Sparks. Not that there's anything wrong with this book or anything that Sparks has written, it's just not my taste. Tell me that a book was "so good you cried for the last 50 pages," and I will avoid that book like the plague. Not for me. And that's the kind of book this is.
I did like Lily. She's a headstrong woman living in a time and place where her opinions and actions are frowned upon. Her mother is trying to mold her into the perfect Southern matron, but Lily is chafing against that lifestyle. It's probably telling of my taste in books and Lily's character when I say that my favorite scene involved Lily assisting a black soldier passing through town.
I liked Jake too. What a hottie with surprising depths! There's so much to him that I kind of feel bad calling him a hottie, but he is. He's only returned from Europe recently himself, and his experiences there have of course changed him. He's become quieter, more reflective, and more appreciative of this moment in time, because who knows what the next moment will bring.
Their story aggravated me to no end. I won't go into why and spoil anything, so I'll leave it at that. The pacing irritated me too. Lily tells the story when she's 82-years-old and just when I thought I might find out what happened, the action would break and we'd move back to present-day Lily for a few pages. That feels like a cheap way to sustain suspense. One scene taking place in the pouring rain had me rolling my eyes and flashing back on the movie version of The Notebook, something I only watched under duress, but that I actually liked in the end.
Like I said though, there's nothing really wrong with this except that it's not my taste at all. If you are a fan of Nicholas Sparks, you will definitely love this one.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me this book for review.(less)
We first meet Crystal Spangler when she’s a dreamy twelve-year-old Virginia mountain girl, in the summer before she begins high school. We follow her...moreWe first meet Crystal Spangler when she’s a dreamy twelve-year-old Virginia mountain girl, in the summer before she begins high school. We follow her as her dreaminess leads her to look for meaning, or for herself, in all the wrong places.
I adore Lee Smith’s work. She writes about the mountains of Virginia. I’m in North Carolina, but reading a book by Lee Smith feels like coming home. She captures the spirit of these mountains and these people perfectly. Just read this opening paragraph:
”Now the lightning bugs come up from the mossy ground along the river bank, first one, then two together, more, hesitant at first, from the darkness gathered there already in the brush beneath the trees. Crystal sits and watches, holds her breath, the Mason jar beside her knee; if she looks down, she can’t even see it now. She touches it with her finger and feels the glass with the letters raised and indecipherable in the dimness so that they could be anything, any words at all. They could be French. Suddenly out of the scrub grass at her knees comes rising a small pale flickering light, sickly unearthly yellowish green, fairy light. It is so close she can breathe on it and see the whirring, tiny wings. Crystal doesn’t move. She could catch it, but she doesn’t. Only her eyes move to follow the flight, erratic at first as if blown by wind although there is no wind in the hot still damp of early June on the river bank, then into the dark branches, away and gone. Crystal can barely see the river on down the bank, barely hear it. She looks across the river bed now to the railroad track cut into the mountain which goes straight up on the other side, almost perpendicular, impenetrable, too steep for houses or even trails: Black Mountain. Its rocky top makes a jagged black hump across the sky and it is surprisingly light that far up in the sky, but the river bottom lies deep in the mountain’s shadow and even in Crystal’s yard now and in Agnes’s yard next door and on Highway 460 in front of the house it is dark. Cars have got their lights on.”
I read that and I drifted back to endless summer nights growing up, either catching lightning bugs or sitting on the porch watching them rise from the hayfield and the trees. I can remember the sound of the creek from my parents’ house, or I can remember being at my grandparents’ house and watching the light fade behind the mountain we called Stoney Fork as full dark settled in across the hills. It might be December, but that passage transports me right into July. And I am amazed at Lee Smith’s talent.
Black Mountain Breakdown is more of a character study than a regional study and I couldn’t bring myself to like Crystal. I can’t bring myself to love a book if I don’t like the characters, so I had a problem. I can’t fault Smith on her depiction of Crystal: she perfectly described the woman who just can’t be herself without tying herself up in some other identity. She’s either Crystal the cheerleader, Crystal the beauty queen, Crystal the Christian, or Crystal the football player’s girlfriend. She’s never just Crystal. And that drives me crazy. She caught my interest at one point and I got excited that this might turn into a five star book for me, but that went away, and I’m left a little dissatisfied. There’s room to think that the book ends any way that you want it to, but I can’t really bring myself to believe that my ending is ever going to happen for Crystal.
For the right reader, I know this would be a fantastic book. It just wasn’t quite there for me.(less)
Daria just graduated with a degree in engineering, but in Odessa, Ukraine, jobs are almost impossible to find. She eventually starts work as a secreta...moreDaria just graduated with a degree in engineering, but in Odessa, Ukraine, jobs are almost impossible to find. She eventually starts work as a secretary for an Israeli import/export firm and as an interpreter for an email order bride company, Soviet Unions. Good men are hard to find in Odessa too, so Daria finds herself corresponding with a few men, even as some she already knows start to make advances.
Really, this was 3.5 stars for me, but I'm rounding up because it's something I'm interested in.
I really liked Daria. She's a sharp-tongued, sharp-witted survivor. Throughout the book she changes in ways that follow a natural progression considering what she's going through. But I felt like the whole "a good man is hard to find and I'm so lonely" side of her got over-developed. That's all she thinks about. At one point, some friends of hers showed up at her house for a birthday party, and I was surprised that she had friends. All I'd seen up until that point was work, and all she'd thought about was work and love. Where did those ladies come from?
I really enjoyed reading about life in Ukraine. We have a surprisingly large community of Ukrainian immigrants where I live. They aren't mail order brides. Whole families come here to escape religious persecution, from what I understand. Anyway, I like listening to one of my co-workers, Sofiya, talk about her life in Ukraine. She never complains, she seems to love her native country, but in a roundabout way, she makes me realize again and again exactly how good I have it. She's only 21, so she never really knew life in the Soviet Union. But she still knows what it's like to be hungry, and her stories of selling old toys on the side of the road, trying to earn money for food, break my heart. I should add here that she comes from a family that seems to be hard-working and caring. But if there's no money, there's no money. She's very open about it all, but I don't even know enough to ask her intelligent questions. I feel like I have a bit more of a starting point after reading this. I feel like we've already had one good discussion because of this book.
The author did a great job of showing why some women feel like becoming a mail order bride is their only option. For various reasons, women outnumber men in Odessa. The men who are left, at least in the book, tend to be alcoholics, abusers, and/or criminals. There aren't any jobs available. Women must choose whether to stay in Odessa, a city they love but where they will never get any further ahead, or whether to take a chance on the unknown dream of America and an American husband. Through Daria's eyes, we see that it's not an easy choice. When former female clients call home with reports of abuse from their American husbands, we see that the dream can become a nightmare. Abuse is bad enough, but imagine being in a country where you don't speak the language, you don't know the system, and you don't know your rights. Terrifying.
Right after starting this book, I caught part of a documentary on TV about this very subject. Maybe I'm projecting my own feelings onto what I saw, but the combination of fear, hope, and uncertainty I saw on the women's faces made me feel for them. It got worse as I watched the soon-to-be husbands start to kiss, hug, and just generally hang all over these women whom they barely knew, and yet who would soon be their brides. The women looked very uncomfortable, but you could tell they were trying to hide it.
All of that came through here. I have to admit that I have the men who use these sites stereotyped as desperate, lonely men. I can't help but feel that they can't get a woman in their own country because there's something wrong with them. I'm sure I'm wrong--they can't all be like that--but this book didn't do anything to dispel that notion. They were all desperate lonely men who couldn't get women in their own country because something was wrong with them.
I've made this sound all serious, and it mostly was, but it had a few lighter moments. Daria's exchanges with Ukrainian men and her friend Olga could be pretty funny. And I'm ready to visit Odessa, based on the loving descriptions of the city found here. Apparently, they have the third-most beautiful opera house in the world. Their climate on the Black Sea sounds positively balmy. Well, compared to what I think of when I think of the former Soviet Union, anyway! They have beaches as we know them! And I want to make my husband carry me up all 192 steps of the Potemkin Staircase. I probably shouldn't say that, or he'll never want to go!
If you're interested in Ukraine or mail order brides, go ahead and pick this up. It was a solid story, I felt like I learned a lot, and it would be great for a group discussion. Look how long I've rambled on here, trying to discuss it by myself without giving anything away!(less)
Eighty-six-year-old Hennie Comfort meets 17-year-old Nit Spindle when she sees the young woman standing outside one day, contemplating an old sign han...moreEighty-six-year-old Hennie Comfort meets 17-year-old Nit Spindle when she sees the young woman standing outside one day, contemplating an old sign hanging on her fence advertising "Prayers for Sale." Hennie takes the newly-arrived woman under her wing, showing her how to survive in a Colorado mining town in the '30s and passing on her vast collection of stories.
At heart, this was a sweet story about the friendship between women, friendship between generations, forgiveness, aging, and a life well-lived. There were some very dark stories, but I finished with a smile on my face.
Hennie was a great character and someone I would like to know in real life, but a few things bothered me.
This was written with a bit of a dialect and it didn't ring true to me. Maybe it's because I'm used to reading a Southern dialect. Maybe because it's about two Southern women who live in Colorado, so their speech patterns have changed. But really I just think it got close enough to being right to really stand out as being wrong.
There's a mystery running throughout the book, and I have to say that I was surprised when I found out what was going on. But we read Hennie's thoughts throughout the entire book, and whenever she got close to the big mystery it all of a sudden got vague. An example--NOT a quote: "Hennie thought she would put some some chili on the stove. She thought about how much Jake used to like chili. She thought she'd soon have to do something about that one last thing that was bothering her." What?!? I've seen that far into her thoughts, so it feels like a cheap trick to hide one thing to build some suspense throughout.
Hennie thinks that she has a few problems that she needs to resolve. Like I said, I didn't see one coming, but I saw the solution to the others coming from a mile away.
This reads more like a collection of short stories set within a loose framework of Hennie and Nit's friendship. That was fine for me, but I do realize that not everyone is a fan of that style.
The tree hugger in me is making me say that for a while, reading the descriptions of mining in the '30s, I felt like we've made some progress in our environmental standards. Things sounded truly terrible back then. But then I remembered that we now practice mountaintop removal mining and I felt like we haven't really made any progress at all.
Read this when you're in the mood for a nice story and you aren't feeling too picky about the writing style. It really was a sweet read.(less)
My grandmother bought me these for my birthday several years ago. They're sweet little Christian romances about pioneers establishing the city of Seat...moreMy grandmother bought me these for my birthday several years ago. They're sweet little Christian romances about pioneers establishing the city of Seattle.
I'm not sure what happened to my copies. I'm wondering if I've left some books at my parents house. Any ideas, Mama?(less)
I started this before I took my mom to see the movie when it first came out. I might have gotten halfway through. Then we went to see the movie and I...moreI started this before I took my mom to see the movie when it first came out. I might have gotten halfway through. Then we went to see the movie and I have never picked up another Nicholas Sparks book. Tearjerkers are just not my thing. Sorry, Mama.(less)