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Review: The Salt Fields: A Novella by Stacy D. Flood

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My Interest

I remember reading the announcement of this book but dwelling on “ghost story” and how I do not like those. Well, happily, I was once again between audios and this one was available. I’m so glad it was. Some times I enjoy things when I find them at moments like this that I would otherwise skip. A spontaneous “Oh, sure, why not” to a book can enliven my reading. Are you like that, too? Or do you plan all of your reading? I do both. Here is a good discussion (about 10-12 minutes in) on planned vs spontaneous reading on the podcast. Tea or Books? #97: Spontaneous or Planned Reading, and Tension vs Thank Heaven Fasting.

Now back to this incredible novella….

 

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Image credit: Copyright Pearson Education Inc. Found here (click)

The Story

Minister Peters has had enough of the hard life in South Carolina where he is a teacher, but lives surrounded by ghosts. The ghost of his wife, of his little daughter, of family members, friends, lynching victims and more. When a mass grave of infants born to enslaved people is uncovered he is “done” and joins the Great Migration to the North that took thousands of southern Blacks to the great cities of the North.

His journey must start somewhere and his starts on a segregated train, leaving a segregated railroad station. He is thrown together randomly by the availability of seats with a couple–the wife so fair-skinned she could “pass” as white, the husband, a bit of a braggart and player. The other man is a returned soldier, navigating post World War II life back in the world of Jim Crow. Along the way, thanks to the slow-moving, long-stopping local train, they all have new experiences, share confidences and jokes, and reveal themselves carefully to each other.

An “inner dialogue” gives us Preacher’s thoughts and opinions of his fellow migrants and gives us much of his background.

My Thoughts

This is one of the finest “inner dialogue” stories I’ve ever read. The audio is superbly performed by Sean Crisden who should be considered for an Audie Award. If Novellas in November happens again this year, keep this book in mind. It is not to be missed.

My Verdict

4.0 Stars

Salt Fields: A Novella by Stacy D. Flood

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Eternal by Lisa Scottoline

My Interest

I liked the sound of the story! And, Lisa Scottoline’s essays are favorites of mine. I’ve read one of her thrillers as well.

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The Story

Elisabetta, Marco, and Sandro are lifelong friends. Nearing the end of high school, as the world veers toward World War II, the three are coming of age in Rome. Elisabetta, the daughter of an unloving mother and a drunken father, Marco the son of cycling champion turned barkeeper, and brilliant Sandro–a Jewish boy with a future ahead of him as a mathematician. The three are in a triangle as they come to the age of boys and girls starting to fall in love. Elisabetta sees the merits of both young men. Rome has long been a tolerant city–Jews have played a full role in its history. They have been there since the time of Christ and have a treasure trove of libraries and historical records.

Marco’s father is a Fascist of the First Order–one of the first. But, will he follow his father? To modern readers, it is unbelievable that Sandro’s father is ALSO a Fascist. After all, El Duce has a Jewish mistress–he is no anti-Semite, and no one in the 1930s had reason to suspect that Mussolini would partner with Hitler. After all, Romans had gone to school together, played together and have both Catholic and Jewish neighbors. Their families are friends and celebrate with each other. That was Rome.

This is the story of the three young people, their families, their city, and their country both as it moves toward war and then through the war. Elisabetta is the first to take on full adult responsibilities, then Marco, and later Sandro. As their world changes, their hearts race. The boys wondering which of the two best friends will win Elisabetta for his wife. Elisabetta seems to know, but does she?

My Thoughts

Lisa Scottoline has written many a bestselling thriller. This is her first foray into historical fiction. Thankfully, she brought her ability to keep a reader on the edge of their seat with her to this book. She has peopled the books with real folks–and real emotion. Are there flaws? Yes, of course, but minor ones. It was hard to think of the three main characters as high school students even at first. They were so adult. Another was this,  [MINOR SPOLIER ALERT] could someone please explain why the sister came back?? That made no sense to me.  Those are tiny flaws that do not matter in the course of the bigger story.

There were a few others, such as coming dangerously close to my pet peeve of inserting discussions of the news to move the story along, but, never mind–this is a riveting book! Yes, there were some places that were maybe a touch too thriller-ish, but the truth is I couldn’t stop listening. I got through all 19 hours of the audio in ONE WEEK. I loved it. Some have said a few scenes were eye-rolling–no, they weren’t because of how they ended. I sincerely hope Lisa Scottoline writes more historical fiction.

Warning: There is one brief moment that animal lovers may want to skip. No spoilers intended, but its when some extended family moves in–ok? Most people won’t be bothered by it. Just warning those who are extra sensitive about animals. Lisa Scottoline has and loves animals, so this did surprise me, but it is very, very brief.

My Verdict

4.0

Eternal by Lisa Scottoline

If you’d like to read my reviews of Lisa Scottoline’s essays, use the search feature.

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Review: Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki

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My Interest

I learned of this book on Twitter. The title went so well with my goal of reading seasonally that I found an e-book version on from my library and started to read it right away. An additional interest was that it is set in Greece. Not being fascinated by mythology, I haven’t read much set in or about Greece unless you count biographies of the late Danish-Greek Prince Philip. Add to this the fact that a few of my favorite book bloggers have/are reading it this summer and you can see why I wanted in on the story.

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The Story

“That summer we bought big straw hat. Maria’s had cherries around the rim, Infanta’s had forget-me-nots, and mine had poppies as red as fire” (p. 6).

Set in pre-World War II Greece, the story centers on three sisters,  Maria, Infanta, and Katarina–the daughters of a divorced couple who live in the country. It is that time in life when boys go from being a girl’s friend to being her future. Each of the girls has her own personality, her own dreams, and desires.

From the awakening of sexual desire through to motherhood the girls travel at their own pace, plotting their course to womanhood with guidance, wanted and unwanted, from their mother, a maiden aunt, their grandfather and friends.

“The scent of dung and milk, thyme and billy goat met her. It rose and mixed in with the heat until it became something you could actually touch” (p. 52).

So much of the writing is so beautiful, it is hard to remember that this is a translation. As I read the descriptions of the landscape, the scents, the way of life, I felt I was there.

[Some] were saying dissatisfied women live in their own imaginary world, that is, they’re deluded….Dissatisfied women are simply unsuccessful women” (p. 105). 

Ouch, I thought. A discordant note.

I loved the way the secrets unfolded gradually and in a manner consistent with real life. I liked too that these were real girls–they went off in huffs, they flounced out, they fell in love, they daydreamed, they escaped the control of their mother whenever possible. All perfectly normal. I loved that. And then one would remark, “I like life a lot” (p.198) and another would stare out a window “as if to ask the night why life was so strange” (p. 108).

My Thoughts

On the surface this is a lovely story, but underneath, in the thoughts of the boys, one can see just how radically different the thinking was back then. While men may still think like this in the deepest recesses of their minds, most do not verbalize, let alone, act on such thoughts.

“The more she restrained herself, the more angry he grew. He wanted to beat her. If only he dared….” (p. 127).

Every woman’s life is a search for a master. Ah, the thirst for submission, the thirst for submission….” (p. 127).

“And that head of hers that she carried so high…He must break her, make her lower it….”

These sentiments, it is true, are surrounded with the man’s love for the girl, with his expression of desire, and of how he would enjoy her, but it is very unsettling to read such statements today.

“You should see…on really hot days, when you lie out on the ledge of the cistern and close your eyes, and then open them a little later, how a thousand little suns leap up and down before your eyes and all around water is reflected o the trunks of the pines, trembling and golden, like little waves, and everything glows, everything, and it makes you want to laugh” (p. 226).

In spite of the beauty of the language, I just did not connect with this book they way I thought I would. There were times when I grew bored and restless and put it down. Yes, it could be the every-present COVID reading-ennui, but I think this time it was the book. My rating means it is a perfectly good book, well worth reading–especially for the excellence of the translation. I’m certainly glad I kept at it–it was worth it to see Greece at that time and to see how alike girls are regardless of their era of history.

My Verdict

3.0

Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki, translated by Karen Van Dyck

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Review: The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

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My Interest

When I read the blurb, I first thought of Vita Sackville-West and Sissinghurst, so I knew I must read it. I gave a silent prayer that it wouldn’t be riddled with titles and mangled forms of address or full of cliches of country house life. Thankfully, my prayers were heard.

The Story

The garden at the country estate, Highbury House, has had years of benign neglect. Designed by famed Edwardian garden designer Venetia Smith, it has endured two wars and endured the indignity of much of it being plowed up to grow turnips and sugar beets during World War II. Now present day garden designer has accepted the commission to bring it back to Venetia’s glorious design. With a young squire and his wife in place in the big house, wanting to restore the whole place to it’s Victorian and Edwardian glory, Emma must hope to the original plans and descriptions are buried somewhere in the house’s archives or storerooms. Meanwhile, a former Land Girl of the World War II era has left behind a few drawings that help. And, the mistress of the big house during the same time period has left a secret. With descendants still in place to help, will the garden be revived and the secrets uncovered?

My Thoughts

This book was so enjoyable! Yes, there was a tiny stumble over a form of address, but it done by someone who had no association with the gentry. I could live with it. The richly drawn descriptions of the garden in all its phases made me almost smell the flowers. The triple timeline (yes, I’ve been very crabby about dual timelines lately) actually worked very well. I loved that it did not start with the cliche of finding granny’s old scrapbook, too. It was far better done than that. I wanted to marry Graham, board Charlie’s narrowboat (two books in one month mentioning narrowboats!) and be friends with everyone in the story.

My Verdict

4 Full Stars

So wonderful to find two new books in a row that fully lived up to their hype!

This would be a good period drama for PBS’s Masterpiece.

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Review: The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

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My Interest

I’ve loved each of Chanel Cleeton’s books, so I knew I HAD to read this one. I listened to the audiobook, which was very well done.

The Story

Told through the eyes of three women: reporter Grace Harrington, wife and sometimes courier of information Marina Perez, and the title’s own Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba, real life heroine, Evangelina Cisneros, this story takes in all angles of the coming Spanish American War. From the vantage point of the yacht William Randolph Hearst charters to cover the war, to the prison where Evangelina is held, to the re-concentration camps and barely-surviving life of Marina, this story is amazing. Each woman’s take on life shows the emotions, dreams, and war-time experience of each woman. Throw in Hearst and his showgirls, Joseph Pulitzer, and a dashing, bantering, Rhett-Butler-ish blockage runner and you have a fabulous historical novel. (Seriously? Has anyone since 1937 heard the term “blockade runner” and not immediately thought, Captain Rhett Butler?)

My Thoughts

Aside from a stray phrase like “it’s complicated” or the word “helmed” supposedly used in 1897, and the over-use of the odd word “tenterhooks” (3 times–2 times too many) this book is everything the hype wants you to believe it is. Cleeton tells such a rich story–I did not want to stop listening. I created errands just to get in the car and listen to more!

My Verdict

4 Full Stars

Imagine, the Spanish American War with barely a mention of Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders! This one is all women!

My reviews of Chanel Cleeton’s other great books:

Next Year in Havana

When We Left Cuba

The Last Train To Key West

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If you like this approach to historical fiction, you will likely also enjoy Ribbons of Scarlet, a novel focused on the women of the French Revolution.

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Books With Flower Names in the Title

Summer is the time of beautiful flowers–so what nicer way to think of flowers than in the title of books–right? LOL It’s just for fun, people! When I do these posts I try to use mostly books I’ve read or books on my own TBR.

Magnolias

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The Ballroom on Magnolia Street by Sharon Owens

Review from my old blog: Nice, easy read with the sort of characters you’d enjoy having as neighbors. Sharon Owens is one of my favorite contemporary authors when I want something pleasant and fun to read.

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Daisy Miller by Henry James (read in high school)

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (my review is linked)

Poppies

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Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War

Tulips

Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach (I DNF-ed this one)

Tulipomania by Mike Dash (on my TBR list)

Under the Tulip Tree by Michele Shocklee (on my TBR list)

Violets

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A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor (on my TBR list)

Roses

A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert

Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon

Permanent Rose and Forever Rose by Hilary McKay

Sweet Peas

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Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy (on my TBR list)

Lily

Lilies of the Field by William E. Barrett (read in high school)

Lilies of the Field (movie)

Morning Glory

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I read this sweet romance years ago and loved it.

Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer

Marigolds

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach (my review is linked–scroll down to find it)

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel & Second Best Marigold Hotel (movies)

Dahlias

Blue Dahlia by Nora Roberts

The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree by Susan Wittig Albert (Darling Dahlias Book 1) (on my TBR list)

Sunflowers

The Sunflower by Richard Paul Evans

Sunflowers A Novel of Vincent Van Gogh by Sheramy Bundrick (on my TBR list)

Lavender

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My review from my old blog: I’ve finally done it! I made it thru a free kindle romance without laughing or gagging!! Ha!! This author, unlike many others of the genre, can really write! I was in the mood to just ESCAPE and this book provided me with a mini-vacation. I won’t pretend this is high-brow literature, but it was low-brow fun of the best sort. Bernard is every down-trodden woman’s dream. Good triumphs over Evil. What more needs to be said? This novella is a pleasant hour or so of escape! Lavender Vows by Colleen Gleason (Medieval Herb Garden Series)

Lilacs

The Lilac Bus by Maeve Binchy (read on a blogging hiatus so no review)

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (DNF)

Have you read any others? Leave me a comment or a link to your own post.

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Cross-Generational Romance in Fiction: Review: The Great Fire: A Novel by Shirley Hazzard

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My Interest

I learned of this book from Modern Mrs. Darcy’s recent post Where I Get My Best Book Recs + 8 Recent Reads I Loved.

When I started this blog, I intended to focus more on my own hope-to-be-books which are, at present, still manuscripts. My focus is old man–younger woman romantic stories. Not formula “romance,” just romantic. No trophy wives. No creepers. Just honest, decent older man–younger woman love stories.  I’ve posted several reviews over the years of this blog of what I term “Cross-Generational Romance” both in fiction/film or in real life. You can use the Word Cloud to find them, or in the search box type Cross-Generational. Last week I posted a Real Life Cross-Generational Romance–the wedding of Lady Kitty Spencer and Michael Lewis. You can read that post here.

Anyway, when I read Anne Bogel’s post linked above, I thought “HOW have a missed this novel??” I went immediately to my library’s website and was thrilled to bits to find an available e-audio copy–exactly what I needed to thoroughly enjoy this book.

The Story

“My need of your words: for such closeness there should be a word beyond love.”

Aldred Leith, son of a famous writer, is stationed in occupied Japan with the British Army. The Commander’s terminally ill son and daughter, both late teens, quickly become his dearest friends in Japan. Benedict, suffering from a rare illness, and Helen, his caretaker sister, have led a life largely disconnected from their parents and are now back on the periphery of their parent’s official life. Aldred and Helen find soulmates in each other.

My Thoughts

This is a hard book to review. I listened to it, and did not have time while doing so to pull over and write down some of the many quotes I loved which is a shame. Those one at the top of this post I found on Goodreads. The delicacy of the relationship, of Aldred’s ethics, morals, and his awareness of Helen being so young are well-handled. I just plain loved this book. I will probably buy it and even let myself re-read it some day! (I’m 59–I’ve pretty much quit re-reading except for a couple of “old friends”).

I have done this book no justice and I so loved it!

My Verdict

4.0

The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard

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Review: The Cookbook Club by Beth Harbison

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My Interest

I love to cook. I thought the idea of a group getting together to share dishes from one cookbook sounded really fun! I’d enjoy that in real life. I also needed an audio for my commute. I then discovered this was why I’d found and enjoyed another of Harbison’s books, When in Doubt, Add Butter.

The Story

Margo’s husband walks out on her, leaving her shocked. She find a meet-up for a cookbook club in her area and goes. There she meets Aja (“Asia) and Trista. The club provides the friendships she’s been needing.

Along the way we come to know Margo’s college buddy, big-name star Max who is finding privacy, redoing the farm house Margo got in the divorce. We meet Brice and his step-brother Lewis, too, through Trista’s post-law career as a bar owner and restaurateur. Finally there is the fraught Lucinda and Michael duo–mother and son, with whom Aja is involved.

My Thoughts

While I enjoyed this story, I felt the actual cookbook club was forgotten and worked back in here and there. It may be that the marketing people fell on that for the title and that the author had not intended it to be such a big thing in the story–she may have meant to use the club’s choices for each meeting as an anchor for the chapter and marketing went over-the-top with the idea. Or maybe the first chapter sold the book and then seat-of-the-pants storytelling hijacked the idea.

I liked the characters and their stories were well told but definitely had a “seat of the pants” feel to the storytelling. The chapters alternated among the three women’s stories and the friendships grow, the backstories emerge, their lives are revealed, but then it was just over–and awkwardly with a few story lines such as that of Margo’s ex-husband. [Minor spoiler] For example, I did not see why she needed to call the police when he was in no way threatening. That was odd. Max is involved with Margo’s YouTube, and the author seemed to be setting up conflict, but that just disappeared until the epilogue in which the stories were neatly tied up.

This story was good–but had the potential to be so much better. Opportunities for conflict and subsequent character development were ignored. And, while the food was good, especially in the recipe-testing scenes in Trista’s bar, and there is added content with recipes, I thought it odd that more wasn’t done with this–maybe all of the ladies coming together to start a restaurant or cooking school with locally-sourced organic produce or something like that. I thought that was the obvious destination but perhaps that was too obvious. Instead we ended with “that’s all” basically. Too bad. That could have led to a nice sequel.

As a nice, light story, it was fine. The characters were believable and likeable. The story checked a lot of good boxes for most potential readers–cooking healthy, book club, angst about having real friends,good food, trendy activities like yoga and YouTube, restoring houses, and more. I really hoped with the great description of Margo’s “curated” kitchen in the first chapter that there’d be more of this, too, but no. The cookbooks chosen seemed pretty simple–The Joy of Cooking, Magnolia Table, Linda McCartney’s vegan cookbook and a few others of that caliber seemed less than inspired for such a group. There was zero diversity, which could have been too contrived for the story, but seems an obvious thing to miss in a foodie book. Other cultures are what makes food so interesting.

Never the less, I look forward to more from this author and will likely read more from her backlist.

My Verdict

3.0

The Cook Book Club by Beth Harbison

 

Also by Beth Harbison

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My Review of When in Doubt Just Add Butter

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Books About Female Aviators

The Forthcoming One

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Due out in November, Danielle Steel’s newest deals with flying nurses in the Army’s Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron.  (Sorry, there isn’t enough information to be sure the women are also the pilots, but I’m including it anyway). Flying Angels: A Novel by Danielle Steel is available for pre-order.

The Brand New Ones

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Newly published, this novel is another in the “missing aviator” genre, this time with a modern-day story of the actress chosen to play her on film.

After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There–after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes–Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.

Great Circle: A Novel by Maggie Shipstead.

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Saint Louis, 1923. The golden age of flight has just begun, and pilot Mattie McAdams refuses to cede the skies to cocky flyboys. She longs to perform daring stunts in her family’s flying circus, but the men in her life stand in her way—including the show’s star performer, Leo Ward. They can wring their hands all they want; Mattie won’t stay grounded for long.

The Time-Tested Ones

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Has a reporter located seemingly lost round-the-world aviator Irene Foster? Her Last Flight: A Novel by Beatriz Williams.

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West With the Night, the memoir of real life pilot Beryl Markham the first solo pilot to cross the Atlantic non-stop, led a colorful life mostly in Kenya. West With the Night by Beryl Markham.

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Circling the Sun tells the fictionalized story of Beryl Markham. This was one of my favorite books of the year in its publication year. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain.

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While she is best remembered today as a writer and as the mother of the kidnapped Lindberg baby, Anne Morrow (Mrs. Charles) Lindbergh was also a pilot. This fictionalized account of her life is a wonderful read. The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin.

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The Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) taught men to fly and flew planes to where ever they were needed in the USA for the Air Corps. Several women died in this service, yet they are largely forgotten today.  The Women With Silver Wings by Katharine Sharp Landdeck.

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The second book in a series about its heroine, Velva Jean leaves her rural Appalachian home to serve her country as a pilot in the WASPS. Velva Jean Learns to Fly by Jennifer Niven.

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Amy McGrath was the first female Marine pilot to fly a combat mission. After the Marines she ran against Senator Mitch McConnell. Honor Bound: An American Story of Dreams and Service by Amy McGrath.

 

Do you know of other books to add to this list? Leave me a comment or a link to your own post on female aviators.

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Review: Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light: Essays by Helen Ellis

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My Interest

Helen Ellis, rose to fame on Twitter as What I Do All Day. In addition to being a Twitter-phenom, she is also a pro poker player and housewife turned writer-author of Southern Lady Code, and American  Housewife as well as an early novel. I fell in love when I encountered her essay in which she thinks her husband wants a divorce, but he just really wants the crap off the dining room table. I could relate. By the way, her husband sounds just this side of perfect–so much so that he’s a literary crush of mine now.  I won’t ever Google him–it would spoil our relationship. I want him to have a cleft chin, Michael Middleton’s smile and his snazzy blue blazer, and a pair of really great Italian loafers. Swoon. It’s ok, Helen. He’s all yours. I swear.

The Story

This time around Helen has published more essays. I was pleased to see that her professional poker career was among the topics covered in this book. The first line hooked me:

“From the start of our grown-ass ladies trip to Panama City Beach, aka ‘The Redneck Riviera,’ Paige and I could see that Vicky was having a hard time.”

Never mind poor Vicky’s suddenly-empty nest, and I am truly sorry about her bad mammogram, but when it’s hot as hell here in Southern Ohio, folks head to a spot of even greater heat and denser humidity–Panama City Beach. My own [adult] kid has gone there on vacation and I have the t-shirt to prove it. So, Helen got my attention.

As she moves through the various essays, there were, as always, moments I could shake my head and say “Amen, sister.” Especially in “Are You There,  Menopause? It’s Me, Helen,” which provided my favorite quote [the punctuation may be a little iffy here because I listened to the audio book]

You need “all the tampon sizes: mini golf pencil, dill pickle spear, rolled up newspaper, Nerf baseball bat.”

My Thoughts

I love Helen’s humor, but this time she strayed into the crude a bit more than I’d like. It sells–I understand. I’m not dissing her or abandoning her. I just could have done with less of that, although the question she asks her husband after the guests leave is one I’ve discussed with my long, long, ago ex-husband, and various other guys with whom I have had a romantic relationship. Nonetheless, less is more.

I loved her take on the Greyhound bus to Atlantic City and her tales of the poker table. I’ve been curious about her poker career. Watching poker or watching bridge on t.v. is less exciting to me even than watching a foreign stock exchange ticker so I’ve never seen her if she’s been on any poker shows on t.v.

In spite of being disappointed in a couple of these essays, I am already looking forward to Helen’s next book–whether it is essays, short stories, a novel, a history of delis in Manhattan or Garage Sales in Alabama for Dummies.

My Verdict

3.0

Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light: Essays by Helen Ellis

Southern Lady Code and American  Housewife