Review: Women Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole: Quite a Ride!

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Jessica Brockmole, in  the short space of three novels, has become an author whose books I now anxiously await!  Here newest, Women Enters Left, is a deft shuffling of two road trips–one by the mother, the other by the daughter a generation apart. It takes a well-organized mind to plot such a book and a talented writer to keep it from being confusing. Jessica Brockmole has that mind and is that author.

The Story

!in 1926 Ethel and Carl are at a impasse. Divorce looms. In the middle is their daughter A.L. (Anna Louisa). Enter Florence Daniels, the one-time third of this group. She and Ethel take off on a road trip after Carl leaves with A.L. to acquire a Nevada divorce.  Fast forward the the 50s of McCarthy’s famed House Un-American Activities Committee and daughter A.L, is now the grown-up movie star, Louise Wild, making her own journey to decide if her career and her marriage can survive. In and around these two journeys are a few love stories, both open and hidden, a script by Florence and a lot of hamburgers.

My Verdict

3.75 Stars

There was really nothing I didn’t like in this one. I just thought the script got in the way a little–hence the  fraction of a star. I found the story of Florence’s and Carl’s frustrated love stories very sweet. They were told so gently, so true to the time of the story. I always love this–it is a mark of historical fiction done right. I also enjoyed the frightening story of the radium sickness. When people complain that U.S. Business is over-regulated, they need to remember that this is why.

I hope this soon becomes a movie–it will be a good one.

Woman Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole.

Read here why I loved the short story Jessica had in the World War I anthology Fall of Poppies.  Her first book, Letters From Skye,  is on sale for Kindle–only $4.99.

 

To learn more about the radium tragedy:

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The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. Currently on sale for $2.18 for Kindle

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Review: ‘Over the Hills and Far Away:’ The Life of Beatrix Potter

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My Beatrix Potter story

 

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My own most vivid memory of  a Beatrix Potter tale is over the version broadcast on PBS in 2003. My kids and I were watching The Tale of Samuel Whiskers–suddenly the poor guy is wrapped in pie crust and ready to be baked! My daughter, understandably, fell to pieces. She clutched our beloved big orange cat, Stanley, and wept uncontrollably.  I tried to reassure my daughter that all would be fine and that, more importantly, it wasn’t real and that our big guy was fine. She didn’t let our cats out of her sight for a week. It took hours to get her to sleep–and this was the kid who collapsed so early, I cheated and put the clock ahead so she’d go to bed! No need to tell you that no more Beatrix Potter happened at our house!

Matthew Dennison’s Book

Dennison chose to tell Beatrix’s story a little differently. He anchors each chapter with a quote that goes with the theme of the chapter.  He also tried, whenever possible, to show what aspects of her children’s books came from real life. So we learn of scenery being at real places Beatrix lived or that certain real animals were involved–that real children dear to Beatrix were the first to receive her stories as illustrated letters.

He also tells the story of Beatrix’s isolation. Her eccentric parents went above and beyond the normal Victorian mantra of keeping daughters at home. Starved of company outside her family circle, she turned inward. With no one to befriend, she befriended a menagerie of animals and shared her thoughts in her carefully coded journal.  From childhood into early adulthood she was very lonely.  Her parents kept such a tight reign on her that even as an adult with her own home she was forced to spend most of her time as a sort of lady in waiting to her parents. I found this very sad.

I  loved learning that in addition to her children’s books with their marvelous illustrations she also quite an amateur natural scientist. She was especially fascinated by fungi–mushrooms. Nature journals, were a popular past time for Victorians and Edwardians. They would find specimens, draw or watercolor them and label them beautifully. Her nature drawings were of a professional standard as her parents had at least given her excellent tuition in art from private teachers. The book includes a few color plates with some of her nature drawings. Her love of nature also led her to be an early land conservator–buying up land to protect if from encroaching development.

Having loved the movie Miss Potter,  I was pleased to learn the real stories of her first engagement and later marriage. For having such a lonely, often isolated childhood, she at least found someone with whom to share some aspects of her life.

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Finally, I was so pleased to see that the author and published used such lovely endpapers for they were a fixation of Beatrix’s in her own books.

Rating

4.0

 

 

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Top 5 Wednesday: Classes Based on Books/Characters

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  1. Storm Chasing with Dorothy Gale and Assistants

 

 

2. Identifying Potential Addicts with Professor W.W. [White Witch] Jadis

 

 

3. Ethics in Science with Victor Frankenstein

 

 

 

4. Tomorrow is Another Day: Reinventing Yourself After Disaster  with Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler

 

 

5.  How the Other Half Lives with Margaret Hale

 

Top 5 Wednesday is a group you can join at Goodreads.com. Why not join and do your own list of video post?

Six Degrees of Separation: Wild Swans by Jung Chang

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While I’ve not yet read Wild Swans, it has been on my to read list for ages. I even spotted a copy at Half Price Books last week, but couldn’t remember why I might want to buy and read it! Now I remember–it’s September’s Six Degrees of Separation starting point book.

This book’s topic brought to mind so many great books! I skipped Pearl Buck’s classic, The Good Earth and the popular Lisa See books, and focused mostly on very readable non-fiction. The one novel I hated to leave out was Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.

 

My Six Books

 

 

 

America, and much of the Western world, first learned of China from Christian missionaries, so I chose Gladys Alyward  and the story of her life in China, The Little Woman.

The Joy Luck Club was assigned in my first college English class in the Fall of 1980. It is unforgettable.

Chinese Cinderella is a book for middle grade students, but is informative for any age.

Red Scarf Girl is a middle grade book, a personal account of life during the worst days of the Cultural Revolution as experienced by a school girl.

Factory Girls, which I have blogged about before, is a good look at where all those “Made in China” goods are  made and by whom.  Not many Americans would choose to live and work like these young women do.

A Heart for Freedom is book I’ve just started reading. The author fled China in a cargo container and went on to the Ivy League and more. A very vivid tale of today’s China.

 

Six Degrees of Separation is  a monthly book meme now hosted by Books Are My Favorite And BestWon’t you come and join the fun? Here’s the link to the rules. And, here is the link to this month’s Meme posts.

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I Struggled With

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Ten Books I Struggled to Get Into But Ended Up Loving or Ten Books That Were A Chore To Get Through or Ten Books I’ve Most Recently Put Down (the theme is…books you had a hard time with…tweak it how ever you need).

The Ones I Kept at and Ended up Glad I Did

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Several times on Twitter I’ve read comments about giving up on Beartown. I gave it a little thought, but I’m very, very glad I stayed with it. Here’s the post on why I loved it.

 

 

 

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I ended up liking this book in spite of a few difficult moments. You can read my full review here.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ones I Wished I’d Tossed Back, But Didn’t

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I’m a fan of Lisa See’s, but this one….. My review.

 

 

 

 

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No matter what the critics said, it just wasn’t for me. My review.

 

 

 

 

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I so wish I’d listened to my inner-reader’s voice and tossed this back. I tried it in both print and audio and DID finish it. Here’s my review.

The Ones I Gave up on and Didn’t Look Back

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I gave this one a SECOND chance! But SPOILER!! When a victim of incest has to make her own “organic” condom and justifies enduring the abuse to pay for her education…..AND that wasn’t even a NAZI atrocity (the book is about Nazi treatment of non-Jews the Third Reich didn’t want)…. I threw it back. I wanted to hurl it out the window and keep driving, but it was a library copy.  Who decides that stuff like this “adds” to a story?

I had a variety of reasons for throwing these three back. You can read my post on “why” here.

 

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The adults whining got too much for me. I didn’t bother with a review. I’ll give her work another try though. It just wasn’t the right story for me at that moment.

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted each week by the Broke and the Bookish. Why not join in the fun?

When the voice of a favorite audio book series …. dies

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Louise Penny and Ralph Corsham at the 2013 Audie Awards–please click here to read the full story of their award in AudioFile Magazine Photo credit: AudioFile Magazine.

An audio reader makes or breaks the book in that format. Beloved author Madeline L’Engle made me want to throw one of her books out the car window–she could write amazingly well, but her reading? No. Just no.  When the fabulous C.J. Critt quit or was replaced as the voice of the fun Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich I had to switch to reading the books–I just couldn’t make the change of voices. About the same time I decided to try Anne Perry’s William Monk books, but fearing another change mid-series I chose to just read them. Lisette Lacat simply IS Precious Ramotswe of Botswana’s famed fictional No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. It just works like that with a series for me.

So you can now understand that Ralph Cosham simply WAS Armand Gamache to me–and to thousands of other devoted fans of  Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache  When Ralph died the series risked losing thousands of devoted listeners. I cannot even imagine what it was like for all involved to go thru the auditions to for his replacement.  Yesterday, I happily slipped the first cd of the next book in the series (I’m a few books behind having come to them later in their life) and heard the shocking (to me) news that poor Ralph had died, taking the marvelous voice of Gamache and everyone else in Three Pines and the Sûreté du Québec with him  (Will anyone ever growl “Numb-nuts” the way Ruth/Ralph did?)

So there I was, driving along to work, ready for more of Armand and Reine-Marie and Jean-Guy and Ruth and Myrna and Gabri and Olivier and I hear that….wait for it… Robert Bathurst is going to be the “new” voice of the series starting NOW.  I nearly swerved the car into a semi. I was excited!  This might remind you of why…..

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Sorry for the lousy photo, but Sir Anthony Strallan–my favorite Downton Abbey character,  is going to voice Gamache?! (Well, ok, the ACTOR who played him  is doing it.) I have to admit that my next reaction was “huh….”

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If you read this blog, you know I’ve “cast” Robert Bathurst in a couple of roles such as the would-be movie versions of  The Trophy Child and the Light of Amsterdam. I also use his  Cold Feetera face as inspiration for writing the looks a character in my new novel. And, I could replay him (as Anthony) saying “Have you done something jolly with your hair,” over and over since I have lamentable hair that is the bane of my life. I don’t think I’ve ever had a compliment even 5 minutes after leaving a salon. Sir Anthony just knew I needed to hear that line.

But, back to Gamache. The verdict is out on whether I can make the transition. It was rough going for the first two hours of listening. Not because Robert did a bad job, but because he just isn’t Ralph. I’m trying, though, to be loyal to my beloveds–Gamache (the man is married to a BELIEVEABLE librarian –rare in fiction) and dear, sweet Anthony.  But I do feel like I’m being unfaithful to dear Ralph.

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My favorite photo of Robert. (credit).

Robert’s debut in the series is book 11 The Nature of the Beast.

Here’s a thoughtful review of Robert Bathurst’s reading of the Nature of the Beast.

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Review: The Gustav Sonata

 

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“A breathtakingly radiant story of an unlikely childhood friendship that survives the test of time.”  Amazon

 

My Thoughts

It’s a perfectly decent book if you don’t mind occasional graphic moments. And they are merely moments. The writing was, frankly, a bit dull.  Gustav is the son of the cold, repressed mother and a heroic father who destroys his career falsifying police documents to allow Jews into Switzerland. Gustav, after avoiding intimacy as an adult by throwing himself heart and soul into his hotel business,  grows up to find happiness in a loving relationship with another man–the man who has been his best friend since kindergarten. I was happy for them–it seemed to be a kind, loving relationship in which they could both grow old.

Gustav is a man anyone would love–caring and gentle–he even makes time for his late father’s lover and to play Gin Rummy with an old British guy.  That kind of good guy.  But he keeps his sexual urges subdued thru overwork.  Anton is crushed by parental expectations but, he too is likeable, if only because of the burden he carries of trying to conquer his problem of performing on stage as brilliantly as he does in private. Both deserve a happy home life and caring partner. I was glad they found each other again.

In terms of the story, however, I was sorry that Erich’s work on behalf of the Jews was such a minor part of the book and that his extra-marital affair was such a big part of it. How much better to have heard more about his sympathy for the fleeing Jews than about his enjoyment of  his mistress.

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What I didn’t Like

Keeping in mind the “breathtakingly radiant” comment in the review I read–the review that made me read the book,  I have to ask: Did the Amazon blurb writer even READ the book?  Why, why, why was an attempted child molestation considered “necessary’ to this story??? How is that “breathtakingly radiant?” I really had a huge moment of cognitive dissonance here thanks to that review. I don’t normally use the words “beautiful” or “radiant” to describe attempting to force sex on a child.

I could put up with masturbation and exuberant man-on-woman oral sex–those or even a still-horny guy sniffing the sheets he’s just made love on to retain his gal’s scent–these, while icky, are at least “ordinary” (and fleeting) and this was the story of “ordinary” people living “ordinary” lives. Ordinary people in ordinary lives have sex in and outside of marriage or, if they don’t, they give themselves pleasure, hopefully, in private. Ordinary. Molestation, even just attempted, is not ordinary.

I really can’t believe anyone thinks sticking a random attempt to molest a child–even a fictional child–helps build interest in the story or the characters. Shock? It no longer “shocks” me to read crap like this.  It just makes me roll my eyes at the predictability of a really awful and distressing sex act in so many well reviewed, best selling novel today.  For example, this is the second book in a row  I’ve read featuring a brief scene of a man admitting he was enjoying inflicting a little pain on a woman during intercourse. While honest, its not exactly a “radiantly beautiful.” emotion–is it? Though, truly, I can’t decide which of the three, masturbation or vivid oral sex or liking inflicting pain,  is the new “It” scene (like the It Girl) required for novel to be published right now.  As a writer this really troubles me. I don’t want to inflict this sort of thing on my readers, but I do want my books published.

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

A Deeper Review

If you’d prefer a much deeper, more adroit review of this book which focuses on the deep symbolism (which, thank you I did ‘get’),  and which explains in terms I do agree with that “Gustav, who seemed middle-aged as a child, is infantilised as a middle-aged man. The life force has gone from him and he has no credible sexual identity,” then read the Guardian’s excellent review here. This review rates 5 stars on its own.

 

My Rating

3.5 Stars

 

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Top 5 Wednesday: Bromances

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Love this topic! So fun!

 

The Bromance in Chief I

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President Barrack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. One of history’s great Bromances!

 

The Bromance in Chief II

 

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President Jed Bartlett and Leo McGarry of The West Wing.

Bromance Abbey

 

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Robert, Earl of Grantham and his butler, Charles Carson, on Lady Mary’s first wedding day. Downton Abbey.

 

The Dad Bromance

 

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Harry, Bill and Sam–a Bromance unlike any other. Mama Mia! Indeed!

Did you know there’s a sequel in the works?

 

The Classic 80s TV Bromance

 

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Magnum and Higgins (and “the lads”)–a classic tv Bromance. Magnum, P.I.

 

Top 5 Wednesday is a group you can join at Goodreads.com It’s fun! Join in!

Top 10 Tuesday: 10 Hidden Gem Memoirs

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Horse Boy: A Father’s Quest to Heal His Son by Rupert Isaacson. A father and horses help an autistic boy find his way.

 

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Farm Girl by Karen Jones Gowen. What it was really like to grow up in the depression years on a farm in Willa Cather country.

 

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Stop-Time by Frank Conroy. One of my first assigned books in college in the Fall of 1980. A harrowing childhood saved by writing and jazz.

 

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Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany by Eleanor Ramrath Garner. A fascinating look at what happens when a German-American family returns to Germany during the depression for a job with much more promise.

 

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The Perfect Gentleman: A Muslim Boy Meets the West by Imran Ahmad.  An hilarious and heartwarming story of a Muslim boy landing growing up in London and trying to fit in.

 

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Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Finn. The memoir of a Michigan family, food and life.

 

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Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron. A sweet memoir of a cat who lived in an Iowa library.

 

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A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: The Journey of Doaa Al Zamel.  You can read my full review here. Dramatic tale of one young woman fleeing Syria.

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See You in A Hundred Years: One Family’s Search for Simpler Life by Logan Ward. The tale of what happens when a very modern couple tries to live like it’s a hundred years ago. Really live like it. If you loved the PBS Show The 1900s House–this is the rural American version sans the reality tv cameras. A good read.

 

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Memories of Ninety Years by H.R.H. the Duchess of Gloucester. When Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott married George V’s 3rd son, Prince Henry, she was the Lady Di of the moment. at 35 she was an older bride, but she’d lived a very interesting life–including winning an international photography contest. This is her 2nd memoir-the “pretty” one with all the photos, drawings and other memorabilia.

She is the only non-Princess to be allowed to use her name with “Princess.” The Queen allowed it after her Uncle Harry died so that Alice did not have to go through life as “Princess Henry, Dowager Duchess of Gloucester….” Her first son, the “other” Prince William was a very modern young man who, like Princess Diana,died tragically at a very young age. If you are guessing that the names William and Henry/Harry are familiar–well, Charles wanted his sons to, of course, have traditionally royal first names, but only those not then in use. William and Henry (Harry) were the top of the list.

 

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Why not post your own list and join in the fun? Here is the information you need to participate.

 

Review: Murder of a Lady: A Scottish Mystery by Anthony Wynne

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First of all,  I must say I’m very sorry–I thought I’d noted the blog where I found this gem of a mystery.  I like to acknowledge by fellow book bloggers when I discover a good book via their posts. So, sorry!

The Story

The beloved sister of a Scottish laird is killed in what seems to be her sealed-from-inside bedroom. Is the murder her brother? The Faithful Family Piper? Her beloved nephew?  His wife? The village doctor?

In the proof of the Bible verse that says “There is nothing new under the sun,” people in the remote Scottish Highlands in the late 1920s (the book was published in 1931) had a mistrust and dislike of religion it seems. The beloved sister of the laird was very religious. Was that a cause?

Or, was it the “swimming thing” that was black like a seal?

What I Liked

Those who know me, know I’ve been writing a multi-generational series set in a Highland Castle in the between the wars years for just about forever, so this book was just right for me! I love the old-timey things–gentlemen taking a pinch of snuff, for example. Or the family employing a piper who, due to hard times, is having to also double as a sort of butler. I liked the cozy aspects of young Hamish’s nursery and of folks having to light candles to break the darkness. I loved that the Castle is set on a Loch and that the kitchen still had an axe as a tool.  Best of all, I liked that page one introduces us to the Procurator Fiscal of Mid-Argyll. Now that’s a chap we don’t meet much any more! I’m hoping he wore Chains of Office–I’m a real sucker for Chains of Office.  I loved that the nephew’s name is Eoghan and that his wife is Oohagh. Marvelous! I took the man’s name to be pronounced as “Ewan” and the women’s as “Una”. Correct me, please, if I am wrong!

This book worked equally well as a classic “Who done it?” Or as an episode of Scooby Do Where Are You? Think about it–spooky castle, ancient retainers hovering nearby with lit candles, a murder, a bunch of shady folks lurking nearby and then…. AND THEN…..a swimming creature! Yep! I can just see Scooby leaping into Shaggy’s arms, can’t you?

Murder of a Lady: A Scottish Mystery by Anthony Wynne

Rating

Solid 3 Stars

Exactly what I want from an old-time murder mystery!

 

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Credit: Scooby Doo and the Loch Ness Monster