Review: How to Get Dressed…by Alison Freer



What a fun read! “You’re joking, right?” I hear you say. Nope! Fun Read.  This is not a home ec textbook on constructing clothes to fit properly! This a savvy young woman telling it like it is in words we all understand. It helps, I supposed, that she is a Hollywood costume designer. She knows both how to achieve perfect fit in clothing–and to fake it for the cameras.

There are many, many great tips that are easy to accomplish if you are willing to either figure in the cost of the small alteration or to just do them yourself. Stop! I know what you are thinking! I hate sewing and don’t want to do it. [Well, “hate” is a bit extreme, but you get my gist, right?]

If, like the author–or like me, you grew up with a relative sewing your clothing so it all fit perfectly, you’ve likely struggled ever since with clothing choices (unless you ended up liking to sew or do alterations). But, thanks to my Mom teaching me over the years, I know this author is RIGHT. Fix it if it can easily, and cost-effectively, be fixed. Otherwise, don’t buy it.

Back in the day, the great department stores, ladies’ dress shops, etc., offered alterations either for free or for a very reasonable fee. They liked having their image protected as style arbiters by having their clientele wear their fashions fitting correctly. Today? Try and find this service unless you are buying a high-end item or a man’s suit!



This image is from the book.

In spite of 56 years of my Mom’s fitting knowledge (don’t laugh–she was a clothing major in college and can even construct a man’s suit!) I still got a few great tips that I won’t share (T.M.I. about yours truly) but if you are my age, these tips will leap off the page at you! Like my cousin, who started life in retail selling with commission, the author knows that “fit” is not size. My cousin once showed me that (at my smallest adult weight, but sadly not today), pants that fit me “right” were the width of a hanger! Oh to be that size again (oh! to have knees that could run and keep the weight off again!).

I enjoyed her debunking of fashion maxims, too! “Never do X…” “Never wear Y…” Very helpful. She also has helpful tips beyond the usual on dry cleaning, hand washing, regular laundry, and on buying and wearing vintage clothing.

Best of all, this is a super-fast read that will make you want to go out and SHOP! Now, who doesn’t love THAT idea?

Perfect for the new graduate!




This would make a SUPER college graduation gift for the new career woman! Forget the old Dress for Succes book–give this and a huge gift card instead.



Rating is for the fun writing style and the practical, real-world friendly tips.


How to Get Dressed: A Costume Designer’s Secrets for Making Your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing by Alison Freer

Want to see what life is like in a lingerie shop like Alison Freer mentions in How To Get Dressed, then read Sima’s Undergarments for Women. Here’s my review from my old blog:


I’ve long been fascinated by all types of fundamentalism, regardless of the political or religious creed the espouse. Sima’s Undergarments for Women is set in a mostly Orthodox and Hassidic Jewish neighborhood in New York. As the title indicates, Sima sells lingerie–the real stuff that real women wear daily. She fits bras perfectly–altering them when necessary. [Yes, I learned a lot!] The story intermingles her struggle to have children with that of the young woman she takes under her wing as a sort of surrogate daughter. Her stale marriage, a friend’s glorious marriage, all get worked into the story. Sima’s Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross.


Review: An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew by Annejet van der Zijl


Allene Tew

On Saturday, a second American actress became a Princess. First Grace Kelly back in the 1950s and over the weekend, LA’s own Meghan Markle married Prince Harry, grandson of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth. But, back in the day– way, way back in the day of “between the wars,” another American became a very minor German princess. And, later still, she married a Russian Count. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Women born in the 1870s who wanted the good life had one option: Marry Well. Allene was the child of a less-successful younger son but made up for that flaw by marrying money at a very young age. Divorces followed in 3 of the five marriages. One marriage was for love (the middle one) and one husband survived her. As she put it “The first two married her for her looks, the third for love and the last two for money.” While that’s a high number of marriages (paraphrase, p. 225-226), I believe she got the reasons right.

Allene was amazingly resilient. Her attitude was simple–just get on with it! She didn’t have time to wish for what might have been or to look back at what might have been lost. She just went forward. While one set of in-laws thought her a gold-digger, she had a lot of genuine concern for those she came to love. For example, continued to take care of her stepson until her death, and left him most of her huge estate in a will contested by her own family. Mind you, she made sure to leave his bratty sister out of it completely! A realist. [Note: I loved that she found the Duke of Windsor to be a bore!]

This Book

While Allene’s life WAS interesting, this book was basically a beach or poolside read. I knocked it out in a few hours. The writing may have lost something in the translation–it was written in Dutch and translated into English. Lots of cliches and a tone not normally used in a biography unless it is of a movie star or other celebrity.


Prince Bernhard


Far more interesting to me than Allene herself, was the story of her young, minor-German-princeling-protege, Bernhard von Lippe-Beisterfeld, the one-time Dutch Prince Consort and father of now “retired” Queen Beatrix. Who is again styled as “Princess Beatrix” in her retirement).  ([The author has also written a dissertation and a book on him.] I hope IT has been translated–that would be a good read based on what she presented of him in this book.]

The 1930’s the Dutch were having a difficult time marrying off their the heir to the throne. If she failed to marry and produce an heir then the succession would be in jeopardy. (The same thing had happened in a previous generation for the same reason.) Juliana wasn’t really pretty and was certainly not slim. Very much like another stout Princess– Mary Adelaide of Great Britain a.k.a. ‘Fat Mary,” (Queen Victoria’s cousin, Queen Mary’s mother), a suitably impoverished Prince wanting an easy life had to be found.  In strolls Allene Tew, now familiar with the German minor-aristocracy from her marriage to Henrich Ruess,  to play matchmaker. This is perhaps her “finest hour.”

The similarities between THIS courtship and that of Meghan Markle was astonishing!

See what you think:

“The princess [Juliana of the Netherlands] was now head over heels in love with the charming, worldly young man who had appeared in her life so unexpectedly. [Dutch Queen] Wilhelmina, too, had received a ‘very good impression’ of him…..The fact that neither of them had yet met any of the potential husband’s family member or friends was of little consequence given the relief that there was finally a serious candidate for Juliana’s hand. ‘Beggars can’t be choosers,’ as the Dutch ambassador in Berlin summed up the matter.” (p. 166) 

“The engagement of the Dutch princess was made public on September 8, 1936. It was considerably earlier than had been intended, Bernhard and his mother clearly didn’t want to run any risks that the union might be called off, and they’d had the news leaked through a journalist friend….. Juliana and her mother met Armgard, Bernhard’s mother for the first time.” (p. 169)



Allene Tew, Countess Kotzebue as she was then known, as a godparent to Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands.

An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew is on sale for Kindle for $5.99.




One silly mistake, possibly due to translation: she mentions meeting someone in an Army Jeep before they were invented.


Review: Diary of a Provincal Lady by E.M. Dealfield


What a hoot! I love it when books stand the test of time, don’t you?  Written in the 1920s and published in 1930, this fictitious diary relates the day-to-day life and often unspoken (well, un-speakable!) thoughts of the wife of business manager at a somewhat large Stately home estate in Southern England, owned by Lady Box. Portsmouth is the nearest city–hence “Provincial.”

Here are her thoughts on arriving at a function at Lady B’s….

“Received by Lady B. …surrounded by a bevy of equally bejeweled friends. She smiles graciously and shakes hands without looking at any of us, and strange fancy crosses my mind that it could be agreeable to bestow on her sudden sharp shaking, and thus compel her to recognize existence of at least one of guests invited to her house.” (p. 383).

Her true thoughts on people and events are what make the book such fun. Her husband, Robert, makes rare appearances and tends only to put in a word about the coffee or some other mundane matter and, if at home, can generally be found asleep behind the Times. Son Robin, age 9, is at boarding school but appears in the holidays, usually with a school friend in tow. Daughter Vicky, 6, is looked after by a governess known simply as Mademoiselle.  Then there are the friends, neighbors, and others about whom she has most thoughts. Her attempts at economy are great–having beans on toast and water for lunch when shopping, but then deciding she “must” have a new evening dress! We can all relate!


I loved this book from start-to-finish. I truly understand why it has never been out of print. One comment–I’ve never seen so much truly awful and inappropriate cover art on a book in my life as was slapped on later editions of this marvelous book. What hacks created it, I’d like to know? I chose the cover at the top of this post as it seems most likely the original.


Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield.


Epistolary Novels?

Do you enjoy epistolary novels–stories told in diary or letter form or similar? Check out these past posts on such books.

Epistolary Books Part I: Fiction

Epistolary Books Part II: Wartime and Royal Diaries

My Favorite Books of Real Letters by Real People

Review: The Professor’s House by Willa Cather



The Story

Professor Godfrey St. Peter finds his life at a crossroads. He is in his 50s, most of his career is behind him, his marriage has grown overly stale, his children are grown up and have lives of their own and his young protege/mentee is dead.  Midlife crisis of sorts is in progress.

“He had had two romances; one of the heart, which had filled his life for many years, and a second of the mind–of the imagination. Just when the morning brightness of the world was wearing off for him, along cam [Tom] and brought him a kind of second youth.” (p. 88)

My Thoughts

This was an odd little book—I actually had to pull out a few reference materials to make sense of its structure. The story begins in a normal fashion then truncates. A different story—albeit of a character often mentioned in the first part, begins. Finally, the book finishes with the end of the first story. Apparently, this was done intentionally.

In an article Cather explains that the structure is to “[correspond to] the academic sonata form” (Cather as cited in Giannone).  “The musical references in the novel augment the larger structural rhythm. Each section has a dramatic pattern which relies on the sonata arrangement” (Giannone, 1965, p. 465).

This explanation let me see the purpose of the odd sections of the book. They are separate “movements.” My brain could understand that. On finishing reading the article, I was pleased that I HAD noticed the Angelus bells and the Braham’s Requiem! Sadly, none of this changed my opinion that the second movement, Tom’s backstory, was very dull. His idealism came across as disgustingly earnest—which it was meant to. That he was ahead of his time in protecting the local cultural heritage is commendable, but he wore it like the proverbial hair shirt.

I was also pleased that my brain has not become so cobwebbed that I could not see the possibility of same-sex attraction and other “overtones” between the Professor and his pseudo-son-protégé, Tom.  It could simply be that the professor had wanted a son, but had two daughters.  I felt there was more there. Yes, the appreciation of a student eager to learn, to grow, to become, is always a tremendous reward for any educator, but….. As the professor struggled to come to terms with the life his family was now leading—his daughters both married, his wife swept up into the life of one daughter and, to a lesser extent, of the other, Tom’s death has left a gap that is not being filled.

The Professor’s candid admission to himself at the end (no spoilers!) is one many people make—though few can carry through with fully implementing it. Years and familiarity have taken away the romantic feelings for his wife and he seemed to me to be a man who needed it in his life. I found his wife and daughters so annoying, his one son-in-law so full of himself, the other barely a presence, that I totally agreed with the Professor’s opinion of him! [No spoilers!] Tom’s death has left him lonely in another way as well.

As always, Cather’s writing is amazing. I highlighted a huge number of passages that I liked and then to put into my Commonplace Book [book of quotations].  I love reading on Kindle for this reason—it is so easy to highlight and save those great passages.

I also giggled a few times at the axiom, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” in regards to academia. The lack of money and so little support for scholarship that The Professor bemoans is still with us today. The lack of respect for the Liberal Arts and the shoving of students into career- (or at least job-) tied degree programs was the same back in the 20s as it is today. All that was lacking was the modern mandates of stifling political correctness.

My Rating



FYI: As an essay I give this post/review about a D+. Regardless, it is good to use my brain in this way from time-to-time, even if I am not really given to academic analysis of literature!

willa-cather-e1461117719608Willa Cather

Review: Atomic City Girls: A Novel by Janet Beard and more


 The Story:

June Walker is a local girl who comes to work in the top-secret “Engineering” works in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in 1944. She is paired with a self-made roommate fleeing her sharecropper heritage and soon attracts the notice of a Jewish-American physicist with whom she falls in love.

My Thoughts:

I admired June from the start. She had courage, but not that annoying “spunk” we read about. “Grit” was closer to the truth than “spunk,” but it doesn’t accurately describe her either. June’s attraction to Sam and Sam’s to June is the stuff that happens in intense situations away from home. The Peace Corps volunteer who falls for a “host-country national,” or the student assigned to shadow the foreign-exchange student who then falls in love with him — it’s that sort of thing. Sam loves the idea of a “forming” June, of educating her. June likes being with an unusually well-educated man who expresses opinions she is still almost afraid of holding.

CeCe, the roommate, cultivates the image of a Southern Belle to escape poverty. She evaluates soldier-dates only in terms of a future. She is a mercenary, protecting her carefully crafted image with a savagery that explains the old phrase “a velvet hand in an iron glove”. She is a true steel magnolia.

Though June doesn’t fully realize it, both girls are ambitious and hungry to better themselves. June’s pride in becoming a secretary — of finding work that truly suits her, illustrates much of what would later drive the “women’s liberation” movement of the early 1970’s.

But it was. June’s maturity about her relationship with Sam nearly leveled me. “If only…”, I thought, looking back at my own life. Wow.

Running alongside these two stories is that of Joe, a married “Negro” man separated from his wife due to a lack of housing for Negro families. While Negro couples could be employed they had to live separately in single-sex plywood shacks known as hutments. His young friend Ralph, like June, is looking to a new world.

One out-of-place scene:

I realize that even in World War II there were deeper thinkers around. But I found June’s reaction to the Army officer’s son’s Japanese flag — sent for Christmas by his Marine brother, to be wildly modern. I really could not envision an American of the time feeling as June did, though I’m sure there must have been someone like that, somewhere. They, like June, would have had to keep that to themselves.

One Other Tiny Thing:

While I imagine Oak Ridge was too great a cash-cow to stand on ceremony, I did wonder that Sam and June were not questioned on checking into a hotel. No wedding rings. Of course people had trysts all the time back then — war is a superb catalyst for spur-of-the-moment hook-ups after all, but there was generally an element of subterfuge — of going along with the public morals. No matter — it was a blip.

My Verdict

4 stars

Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard


And now, the non-fiction version, from 2013.


What can I say about non-fiction SCIENCE (a subject my brain barely handles) that is so compelling I read nearly 200 pages in one sitting without getting up for food or drink or bathroom breaks? This is the book! One of the best of the year in my opinion. While it is about science — the Manhattan Project and the creation of the atomic bomb to be exact — it isn’t. Maybe that’s the secret. The short “science” sections even merit a different typeface to make them more distinct.

This is the story of a town that wasn’t on the map (Oak Ridge, Tennessee) and an audacious project to end World War II as quickly as possible. But more than that, it is the story of the transplanted workers, who did something few Americans today can comprehend: they did not share ANYTHING about their work. What’s the first question we usually ask socially in this country? “What do you do?” or “Where do you work?” They could not tell anything. That alone makes the story fascinating.

Then imagine that African American couples moving to Oak Ridge to work on the project not only had to live apart in single-sex “hutments” with no real windows, but could not bring their children because no schools were provided for “negro” or “colored” children, even though President Roosevelt agreed to no discrimination in hiring for war industries.

The story of the mainly, but not exclusively, young idealistic workers makes great, compelling reading. I highly recommend this book — it’s the kind of nonfiction that makes me stop to wonder why authors (myself included) write novels when real life stories are even more interesting! The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan. [Published November 27, 2013, on my old blog.]


Other books that might interest readers:



Wives of Los Alamos by Tarashea Nesbit

Like  The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka, this book is told in a slightly odd, almost poetic, plural voice that generalizes everything. “Our Marcias got chicken pox…” (p. 14) “We were round-faced, boisterous, austere, thin-boned…” (p. 12). It does not read like a novel, but does tell the story in its way. Like reading a montage of photos. I hope this isn’t the new cool literary fad of the year. It’s very difficult to follow the thread of the story–all the “we” and “us” get in the way. There is no one to focus on. A group is too much.

Minor historical errors of this magnitude: Soldiers in World War II weren’t issued black glasses.
The Wives of Los Alamos by Tarashea Nesbit.  [This review is from my old blog and was published on  March 25, 2014.]





The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church is almost an alternative ending for June’s story in Atomic City Girls.

My review

Review: Digging In: A Novel by Loretta Nyhan


The Story

Recent widow Paige suffers another life-altering loss when her beloved boss dies and his business-guru-adoring son takes over. Paige responds by digging in–to her backyard, much to the consternation of her HOA and her nextdoor neighbor.



I could so relate to Paige and her co-workers and the guru-book!! Above are some of the ones I’ve been forced thru in my working life. That’s not to totally condemn the genre—most such books have at least a helpful nugget or two. They are also useful from time-to-time for a little motivation spurt.  It’s the whole guru/cult-of-personality aspect that gets ridiculous. [And the guru herself? Oh my … priceless! But, no spoilers!]

And then there’s the constant threat these days of having to reinvent your “work self” just to stay employed. That one is omnipresent for most of us. I enjoyed seeing Paige’s mature and realistic approach to this played off against the doom-and-gloom of her long-time co-worker’s inflexible stance.

Paige’s troubles at home were real, too. Her son, still sorting thru his own grief, now prefers Colin’s perfect mother. No wonder digging in had such appeal!!

Most of all, I loved the way this difficult time brought her into contact with other, new, people. I’ve needed things like this to get out of my normal circle, too, and it usually helps. It’s not a put-down to old friends–it’s just a time of life that requires new perspectives, new voices, new approaches.

This was my first exposure to this author’s work and while this is a “light” book—it is meant to be after all, it was a very relatable one.  The perfect read for the pool, the porch or the beach. It’ll make a really fun movie, too.

Digging In: A Novel by Loretta Nyhan

My Verdict

3.5 Stars





Review: The Tuscan Child: A Novel by Rhys Bowen



The Story

This one seemed to have it all: an aristocratic English pilot downed in Tuscany during World War II. His daughter, a young adult in the early 1970s, goes to Tuscany to piece together what happened while he was hiding out. Sounds like a good historical novel, right?


The Reality



Jinkies! Velma would have solved this before Scooby even needed a snack! The clues in this “mystery” were all of the sort only Shaggy and Scooby would puzzle over! The only one missing was the mean guy in the sheet pretending to be a ghost at the bombed monastery!

The narrative had every Italian cliche and stereotype ever created. Apparently, she Googled “Food of Tuscany” as her cuisine research. Truthfully? I knew we were in trouble when Jo boarded a bus with a woman holding a chicken and a priest in a wide-brimmed hat. Yep. That’s right. Then there was the mysterious footprint!!

Just lay this one out on the table for Thanksgiving. Turkey all around.

I hate to be this rude, but honestly? THIS is a best-seller getting RAVES? What do these people watch on t.v.? You could skip most of it and still know what happens.


2.5 stars

And that is overly generous.

The Tuscan Child: A Novel by Rhys Bowen

Review: Varina by Charles Frazier, Cross-Generational Confederate Romance in Fact and Fiction


A Little Backstory

I was a Civil War freak first, then became attracted to Older Man–Younger Woman romances. If you are reading this between the lines, it is screaming Scarlett and Rhett! Yes, I was a Gone With the Wind Addict in Middle School. Much later I learned that none other than that former U.S. Senator and Secretary of War, turned traitor aka, Jefferson Davis, was himself the husband to a much younger bride. So, when I read of this novel’s publication I knew I’d devour it. And I did.

The Novel’s Story

The book is told in that conventional way of a “present day” [in this case, very early 20th Century] story and a remembered time. In this case, Varina Howell Davis is meeting with a man whom she had mothered for a few years during the Civil War when he was an abused child and she his rescurer.

Varina remembers her life as the daughter of a man who couldn’t hold on to money, of her arrival into the odd household of Jeff Davis’ older brother and then her life as Mrs. Jefferson Davis in all of it’s interesting forms.

My Thoughts

I was entranced by Frazier’s writing–this was my introduction to his work so I absolutely wrapped my self in his prose. It is so beautifully written. I was listening to the audio so the pages and pages of quotes I wanted to take down didn’t get written down, which is sad.

Here is the one I managed to write down in parking lot:

“Since then, South and North have been busy constructing new memories, new histories, fictions fighting to become facts…”

And one I committed to memory:

“…a genius at inflicting love….”

Beautiful, evocative, memorable writing like this tells the entire story.



As I have read–devoured, really, Mary Chestnut’s Diary, I was very familar with the war-time life of Varina Davis. Mary Chestnut and Varina were dear friends. I thought Frazier got these parts so right. I have read one biography (see below) of Varina as well. Frazier embodied her the way I had constructed her in my mind. Intellectual, but caring. Independent, but but not stand-offish. Her voice in this book was fully authentic to my ears.

I liked that Frazier gave Mary, the First Lady of the Confederacy, the same sorts of struggles all women faced–feeding the children, keeping her marriage going,  on stupidity of the war. She has to cope with situations that are far too trying for anyone. She also must deal with the almost total abscence of her husband due to the war. With a large family of young children, this was very difficult. Opiates, so destructive today, are not new–women were often prescribed them for hysteria or melancholia. Varina having them in wine was a truthful reaction to the stress of a life she could not control. This was breath-takingly honest.


I also liked (no spoilers) the end of Jefferson Davis’ life–when the ugly head of jealousy rearerd itself in Varina’s very independent heart. That was wonderul. As she said, elsewhere in the book, no one knows the real truth of a marriage but the two people in it. This beautifully illustrated that sentiment.

I was also struck again that a nation founded by “traitors” did not then execute the next generation of “traitors.” It occured to me again, that this is the heart of America. Davis was imprisoned, but as is pointed out in the book, why hang him and have him become a rival martyr to Lincoln?

Trivia: Did you know that the first (childless) Mrs. Jefferson Davis was the daughter of President Zachary Taylor? True!



Read more about the Davis children in this blog post.


What Troubled Me

I loved the book, but there were two things that troubled me just a little. Two tiny things.  I understand there have always been cynics, always been people who loatehd organized religion or who went to church just to keep up appearances, but I found some of the comments made by characters in the book to be very 21st century in their stridency. I also felt that characters sometimes lapsed into well written prose rather than authentic speach. A few monologues or dialogues that were just a bit too well rehearsed for real life.

My Verdict

4 Stars

Her is an excellent biography of Varina (as well as of Mary Todd Lincoln)


Crowns of Thorns and Glory…by Gerry Van Der Heuvel. It is out-of-print, but easy to find used. (The link is to used copies on Amazon.)

An article on Jimmy Limber

John Coski on Jefferson Davis and Jim Limber

Here is are two  interesting “What Ifs…”



If The South Had Won The Civil War by MacKinlay Kantor is the classic of this genre.

CSA: Confederate States of America A Novel by Howard Means, only got 2 stars from me, but it was still an interesting idea. It is set in a modern day Confederacy–everything is truly “separate but equal” for the both white and black.

Review: Every Note Played by Lisa Genova




I’m a classical music lover. Let the words “opus” or “variations” appear in a title and I have to listen. I never learned to play the piano–we didn’t own one. I mastered several band instruments instead–clarinet, bass clairnet (a rich, amazing sound I still adore), saxaphone (alto and tenor) and something called a mellophone. So, this book caught my attention immediately.

Say the names Stephen Hawking, Lou Gehrig, David Niven—what comes to mind? How about the phrase “ice bucket challenge”? A.L.S.–Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. In short, one of the most hellish things a human being can endure. [Sidebar: Because of the disease Rich Little dubbed David Niven’s voice in his last film. Yes, the diesase takes that away, along with every other muscle function.]

The Story

There are two stories here. The first, and obvious one is of Richard–a concert pianist, divorced from Karina and the father of Grace. At about age 45 A.L.S. strikes ending his career, his independence and, soon, his life. The second, less obvious one (isn’t it always?) is of Karina and her abandonment of life. When Karina goes to Richard’s aid and they decide he must “come home,” life changes for both of them.

Richard’s progression thru the horrors of A.L.S. is the stuff of nightmares. My personal dread is of Alzheimer’s, which took my grandmother away. Now I have a second–A.L.S. Both burden family and caretakers more than anyone ever wants, both rob the victim of all shreds of dignity and independence. But, Alzheimer’s at least, occasionally, has moments of “life.” A.L.S. eventually takes it all.

No matter his sins, I hated the thought of Richard never being able to play again. I screamed at the thougth of that music therapist intervention, too.! Dear God, No!! I wanted to shield Richard from any music but that in his memory. I wanted to surround him with beauty–fresh flowers, lovely silk pajamas, a lovely view, natural light, lovely works of art.

I knew Grace’s feelings–my Dad was robbed of most of his faculties and much of his movement after an operation went wrong–I knew the cringe-y despair of being near him. She couldn’t possibly mature enough in that short time to let bygones be bygones. Worst still, Richard would know that.

But it was Karina’s side that affected me most. Without forgiving, without forgetting, torturing herself with her own sins, she goes forward and takes Richard back. She cleans the shit from his balls and pumps glop into his feeding peg. She makes sure the door is propped open so he isn’t isolated. She does the unimaginable.

Her joy in jazz, her thoughts of her own stillborn career, have vanished over the years of being a good wife, a devoted mother. Her life, until Richard’s care takes over, is one of stupifying suburban ennui. The sort that led 50’s housewives to rise up and scream for liberation. But her world is today–not 60 years ago. Sin again.

“…her unfulfilled life has always been a prison of her own making. The fear…the blame…telling her that her dreams were too big, too impractical, too unlikely, too hard to achieve, that she didn’t deserve them….”

Juxtaposed with Richard’s A.L.S. her situation is solveable and she knows it. Guilt, shame, despair, anger–they overhelm. Finally the dam must burst and it does.

The last minutes of their life together give Richard and Karina a few nanoseconds of something on the joy scale–not real joy, something else. But it is enough. I despise the word  “closue” and thank God it wasn’t in the book (I suppose I could have missed it, but I don’t recall it)–for that is ridiculous idea. You never close the score on the composition that is your life. You don’t magically heal and move on. You learn to crawl and then to walk and maybe, just maybe, to run again. That is the feeling I had of Karina at the end of this book. Not that she would magically have her forgotten career, but that she would start over with it. Pay new dues. Put in new time. Achieve new highs and fall to new lows. She would do it for herself, for Grace and even for Richard. But this time it would be mostly for her.

Reading this book drenched me with emotions too deep to articulate. No mere tears. Deep, within the tissues and sinews, were the sort of emotions I experienced her. Some dismiss books like this, but for me, books like this are a form of very useful and successful therapy–unleashing the fears and unsayable thoughts tormenting me in the day as well as in the night. I need them , search for them, hunger for them.

Book Clubs everywhere will want to read this. I hope those who don’t do book club, whether becasue reasing is too personal (as it is for me) or they are too introverted (me!) of they had enough of literature class in high school (me!) will also want to read it. Don’t dismiss it a s a suburban housewife book club book. It isn’t. It’s far too rich for a mere label.

Note: I listened to the unabridged audio version.

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

My Rating

4 Stars

Thank you to blogger Novels and Nonfiction for bringng this book to my attention in this post.

This book caught the attention of blogger Layered Pages as a Cover Crush–you can read her thoughts here.

Check out an ice bucket challenge for A.L.S. here




Review: Pachinko


A big sprawling family saga! My kind of book!! And it covers injustice to an ethnic minority in a major nation.

The Story

A young Koreen couple arrives in Japan not long before World War II. The wife is carrying a child that the husband knows is not his–and it will be born “too early” for the date of their marriage. Did I mention he’s a Presbyterian pastor? A pastor who was trained, supposedly, by the same Presbyterian church and mission school that Ruth Bell Graham attende din North Korea? [Yes, she was Billy Graham’s wife].

The point of the story is to tell of the historic injustice of Japan’s treatment of both Korea and of Koreans who live in Japan. The idiocy of a second generation, Japan-born ethnic Korean having to have a passport issued by South Korea. Oh, and how such people managed to earn a living and live decent lives in Japan.

What I Loved

I loved that the book portrayed Christians in a very respectful way. This is so rare in fiction today (outside of the niche market of Christian fiction, of course).

I loved the grit and survival instincts the characters employed to make real lives for themselves in very trying circumstances.

I loved that most characters led lives in tune with the morals and societal conventions of the time of the story’s setting (which ran from pre-World War II to the late 1980s).

I loved that characters had thoughts and dreams, for the most part, about something other than just their sex lives (I’m truly sick to death of that).

What I Disliked

I added that “for the most part” comment for a reason: The park voyuer scenes and that character’s sexual fantasy. Yes, this is a SPOILER.  ICK! Just ICK. Too often I wonder if the author REALLY wanted scences like this in their book or if they a) put it in to sell it or b) were required to add it to sell it. The “titilating” or “shocking” sex scene really does NOT sell books to anyone over about junior high age anymore, I’m sure,  because it has been DONE TO DEATH. Masturbation was the most recent  topic, now we’ve moved on to voyeurism. Spare me.  I cannot stand when all a novel tells us is how the characters like to achive a you-know-what.

Thankfully, in Pachinko, this was a small part of a couple of chapters–a blip in the narrative. I skipped some of it and was in no way lost for the rest of the story.

Also I despised one late-in-the-story young women. I wanted to slap her. Maybe even throat punch her. She was awful. But she was a small part of the story.

Two small dischorant notes in an otherwise excellent book. In spite of these two elements, I  was pleased to see that this had been nomiated for a prestigious award. Nonetheless, they took my rating down a full star.



3.5  Stars