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The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas

Posted by Sherry on 5/22/2017 in General |

It’s the 1930’s, the depths of the Great Depression, and the farms of Harveyville, Kansas are drying up. No rain. No money. Very little work. And the crops are burning in the fields.

The Persian Pickle Club are a group of ladies who meet together to quilt. They work together, share quilt pieces, read together, gossip a little, and keep each other’s secrets. Twenty-something farm wife Queenie Bean is happy to welcome the newest member of the Persian Pickles, Rita Ritter, who has come to Harveyville with her husband, Tom. Tom is home from the city to work on the family farm, and his new wife is about Queenie’s age and a big city girl. So, Queen decides that she and Rita will be best friends.

As the story progresses, it turns into a murder mystery, and newcomer Rita is determined to double as detective and journalist, crack the murder case, and write it up for the near-by town’s newspaper. Rita and Tom both want to get out of Harveyville and back to the big city, while Queenie loves farm life, is content to let sleeping dogs lie as far as the murder is concerned, and just wants a friend and a little rain.

I’m not thinking that The Persian Pickle Club breaks any new ground in the genres of historical fiction or murder mysteries, but it’s a good solid read for quilters, cosy mystery fans, and readers who remember or want to experience a taste of the Depression era.

Sandra Dallas is the author of fifteen adult novels, two young reader novels, and ten nonfiction books. I read her children’s book Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky in 2015, and I added another of her books to my TBR list, Prayers for Sale, from this recommendation at Small World Reads. I think I ‘d like to explore more of Ms. Dallas’s work. Anyone else have a book by Sandra Dallas to recommend?

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My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Posted by Sherry on 5/20/2017 in General |

I didn’t get it. If that makes me a philistine or a person who can’t appreciate fine literature, so be it. I still didn’t really get it.

The narrator, Lucy Barton, tells the story of her life and her relationship with her mother in particular, by recounting the conversations that took place between her and her mother during a hospital stay in which the daughter, Lucy, contracts an undiagnosed illness and stays in the hospital for “almost nine weeks”. At the behest of Lucy’s husband, a strange character in his own right, Lucy’s mother comes from Illinois to New York City to stay with her in the hospital. The mother tells some stories, waves intermittently at Lucy, and remains constantly at hand and available for several days. They don’t touch much, maybe at all, and Lucy is not allowed to talk about her ow life, her husband, and her children to her mother whom she hasn’t seen in over ten years. Then, the mother leaves.

And that’s the whole 191 page story. Lucy says several times that she feels like a misfit, different. “I don’t know how others are,” she says. As Lucy listens to her mother’s stories and as she remembers her childhood, it comes out that Lucy’s father was physically, emotionally, and sexually(?) abusive, but Lucy’s mother ignored the abuse or maybe was subject to it, or part of it, or both, herself.

Lucy says that the book isn’t about her marriage, but she tells us a lot about her marriage and about her two daughters and about the dysfunction in her own adult family, probably a result of the dysfunction and abuse in her childhood. It’s a sad saga, but so disjointed that just when I was starting to feel compassion for Lucy and even for her mother, the narrative would veer off in some other direction to talk about Lucy’s writing life or the nurses in the hospital or something else seemingly inconsequential and irrelevant. A picture of how victims of abuse sometimes deflect and avoid when the emotion becomes too strong? Maybe, but I found it annoying and confusing.

I was planning to read Elizabeth Strout’s new book, Anything Is Possible, which is said to take place in the same midwestern Illinois town that Lucy hails from. However, since I didn’t “get” this book, I doubt I would like the companion short stories either.

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Saturday Review of Books: May 20, 2017

Posted by Sherry on 5/20/2017 in Saturday Reviews |

“Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.” ~George Bernard Shaw

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Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

(Sorry, guys, it was late last night, and I was out all day today. Here’s the linky:)

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Downriver by Will Hobbs

Posted by Sherry on 5/19/2017 in Adventure thriller, General, Young Adult Fiction |

Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 on the Grand Canyon:
“I want you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interests of the country . . . Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you.”

I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon, but I can imagine it must be an exciting place, especially seen from a canoe deep inside the gorge. I can’t say I’m up for the trip anytime soon, but maybe in eternity when I have plenty of time to train and no fear of death.

In this YA book, eight teens, four girls and four guys, ditch their instructor in an outdoor education camp, steal his van and equipment, and drive to the Grand Canyon to paddle the rapids of the Colorado all the way through the canyon. Jessie is the narrator, angry with her dad for remarrying after her mother’s death. Troy is the wealthy, spoiled natural leader of the group, the one who talks them into their wild adventure and keeps them going once they start down the canyon. Rita is a street-smart New York Hispanic girl with a loud mouth and a gift for outdoor cooking. Heather is the one who is most likely to complain, give up, and go home. Star is from a tough background, formerly homeless, but with an ethereal quality that makes her perilously dependent on her superstitions and Tarot cards. Adam is the clown, always ready to diffuse the tension or sidetrack the conversation with a joke or a comedy routine. Pug, aka the Big Fella, is dumb, strong, and maybe dangerous; against the rules, he carries a knife. And Freddy, part Hopi and part Basque, is the best paddler and wilderness survivor of the bunch, but he’s a mystery, a man of few words, and the only one that Troy can’t figure out or dominate.

Of course, Jessie falls for the wrong guy, at first. It’s rather obvious from the outside, looking in, that Troy is a manipulative schemer. As the trip down the canyon progresses, the kids learn all about how much they can depend on one another, who’s smart and who’s not, and what they each have inside themselves. They don’t learn their own limitations nor do they really reap the consequences of their bad choices, but there’s a sequel, or a companion novel, River Thunder, and maybe that’s where these kids really grow up. Although I would never in my life have wanted to canoe anywhere calm and easy, much less in whitewater, I did enjoy reading about it. I’m on the lookout for a copy of Thunder River, to spend some more time with these flawed but compelling characters and see what happens to them next.

Just a note, probably because it was published in 1991, just before all the barriers came down, there is no bad language in the book, except indirectly referenced: “she added a string of New York’s best obscenities.” These are rebellious, delinquent kids, and probably their language would realistically reflect that. But I sure was glad I didn’t have to read a “string of obscenities.” I wish other authors would take note and leave out the particulars of nasty language, too.

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The Four Swans by Winston Graham

Posted by Sherry on 5/18/2017 in General |

“In the sixth book in the legendary Poldark saga, Ross is faced with a new battlefield, one involving the women whose lives are intertwined in his own.” The “four swans” are four women: Demelza Poldark, Ross Poldark’s rags-to-riches wife; Elizabeth Warleggan, Ross’s first love; Caroline Enys, the wife of Ross’s friend; and Morwenna Chynoweth Whitworth, the parson’s wife. Let’s take each of the four one at at time and see what’s up with them in this installment of the Poldark soap opera.

Demelza, perhaps for the purpose of plot tension and development, is acting like an idiot in this book. She has an admirer who writes poetry for her, and either the admiration or the poetry or both are enough to turn her head and make her all swoony, even though she knows she really loves her husband, Ross, the best. But, oh my, poetry and compliments and a beach encounter! It all seems out of character for sensible, loyal Demelza, more out of character than her attempted revenge-by-adultery in the fourth book, Warleggan. At least in that one, Demelza had a reason for her seductive behavior, not a good reason, but a reason. In this one, she’s just swayed by a lot of sweet talk and a sad story. She had better wake up and smell the coffee in the next book!

Elizabeth, is her usual wishy-washy self in this volume. She has become a better liar over the years, and in this book she pulls off a whopper and convinces husband George Warleggan that she has always been faithful, even before their marriage, never cared much for good old Ross’s smoldering passion, and has eyes only for George. he stakes are high since George suspects that Valentine, their son, may not actually be their son. I keep wondering what will happen if Valentine turns out to be the spitting image of Ross. Elizabeth and Ross manage, mostly, to keep their hands and lips off each other in this book, except for a brief kiss by the garden gate, which convinces Ross that he doesn’t really care for Elizabeth anymore. (Just when Demelza is “torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool.”)

Caroline Enys doesn’t do much in this book. She is perverse and witty when she does appear, and she and Doctor Enys manage to get married, get pregnant, and have a few marital adjustments to make. But the Enyses have a mainly supporting role in this book, and Caroline doesn’t get much screen time.

Morwenna Whitworth continues to have the worst life of the lot. She has a perverted husband, a scheming little sister, and a houseful of children to care for. And she’s still in love with Drake Carne, Demelza’s little brother, but she can’t do anything about that because she’s too busy dealing with her own depression and physical illness and her husband’s incessant demands and her younger sister’s traitorous schemes. With much drama, Morwenna manages to get the upper hand over her husband, the Reverend Whitworth, but her situation remains fraught with peril. Think if the Reverend Whitworth had the guts he would take a hatchet to the beautiful Morwenna, but he’s a wimp and a pervert. Morwenna’s storyline is disturbing, and some people may want to give up on the books when she starts to be the focus of one of the four strands of the plot.

However, there is a fifth part or set of characters in this novel, title notwithstanding, and of all the characters I like Samuel Carne and his love interest, Emma, the best. Sam is a true Christian, a Methodist lay preacher who is committed to the simplicity and power of the gospel. I like Sam a lot. If the author “messes up” Sam in subsequent novels, I really will quit reading. That’s not to say that Sam must be perfect, but he should remain faithful to Jesus and to his Methodist faith. Some people are authentically committed to Christ and his church. Emma, on the other hand, could afford to get converted, but I’m not sure she will. Missionary dating and conversion by romantic attraction were no more or less effective and real in the eighteenth century than they are nowadays. If you decide to follow Jesus just so that you can marry one of his disciples, you carry a lot of baggage into your marriage and into your spiritual life. Emma seems to know this intuitively, but can she and Sam both find a way to look to Jesus first and to each other second? It seems unlikely.

These books should be read in order. There are twelve novels in the series, so I’m halfway through. The next book, The Angry Tide, is set in the final years of the eighteenth century, and Ross Poldark begins his term as a Member of Parliament. The rebel enters the establishment. What could possibly go wrong?

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The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Posted by Sherry on 5/17/2017 in General, Mysteries, Young Adult Fiction |

Before Verity . . . there was Julie.

Billed as a prequel to the popular spy thriller Code Name Verity, The Pearl Thief, set in Scotland and featuring a fifteen year old Julie/Verity, is a coming of age exploration of gender, identity, and bisexuality encased in a murder mystery. Of those three elements—setting, theme, and genre—only two were at all appealing to me. All of the cross-dressing and lesbian awakening stuff which tried to make itself part of the overall theme of confronting prejudice and unkindness instead made me wish the mystery itself were more compelling so that I could skip over the same-sex and opposite-sex kisses and gropings and at least enjoy the plot.

I found it difficult to believe that Julie, an upper class young lady home for the summer from finishing school, could really do the things she did with no compunction or misgivings, no voices in her head screaming that the choices she was making were wrong. She seduces an older man, shares a steamy kiss with a saucy maid while Julie is disguised as a boy, and has an intimate interlude with another girlfriend, all without much inner doubt or moral reflection. There were hints of Julie’s confused sexuality in Code Name Verity, but the hints remained just that and were easily ignored or skipped over. In this one, with a much younger Julie, the intimations have magnified backwards and become blatant and irritating, distractions from a mystery about stolen pearls and attempted murder. However, the mystery isn’t that compelling either.

Anyway, there you have it. The story in this one is subordinate to the message: travelers (gypsies), the disabled and disfigured, and LGBT persons all have to deal with prejudice and misunderstanding, but it’s easier to explore your bisexual impulses because that’s a choice that can all be kept secret and mostly unacknowledged. It’s not a particularly appealing message.

I really liked Code Name Verity, appreciated Rose Under Fire, and enjoyed Black Dove White Raven, but I thought this latest novel by Wein was a dud.

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Saturday Review of Books: May 13, 2017

Posted by Sherry on 5/12/2017 in General, Saturday Reviews |

“Printers ink has been running a race against gun powder these many, many years. Ink is handicapped, in a way, because you can blow up a man with gun powder in half a second while it may take twenty years to blow him up with a book. But the gunpowder destroys itself along with its victim, while a book can keep on exploding for century.” ~The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

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Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson

Posted by Sherry on 5/9/2017 in 2017, Children's Fiction, General |

Really good science fiction for middle grade and young adult readers is really hard to find these days. I mean the old-school, space travel, fighting space aliens, survival in a hostile environment kind of science fiction. Not evil corporations are taking over the world, dystopian pseudo-sci-fi. Hunger Games wannabes are easy to find. Old-fashioned Heinlein/StarTrek-type stories are not as popular.

So, Last Day On Mars is one of those old-fashioned space travel stories with an apocalyptic twist. Liam Saunders-Chang is one of the last humans left on Mars. The earth has already been deserted by human beings and destroyed by our sun which is slowly going supernova. What’s left of the human race is on a quest to colonize a new planet in a new galaxy, and Liam and his family along with a few other scientists and technicians are scheduled to leave Mars on the last starliner out of the solar system just before Mars, too, is destroyed by the exploding sun. It’s Liam’s last day on Mars, but “before this day is over, Liam and his friend Phoebe will make a series of profound discoveries about the nature of time and space and find out that the human race is just one of many in our universe locked in a dangerous struggle for survival.” (author Kevin Emerson’s website).

This book is the first in a projected trilogy, Chronicle of the Dark Star trilogy. Science fiction fans will eat it up. I liked all the plot twists and turns, especially the final ambiguity about who the good guys and the bad guys really are. Liam and the rest of humanity seemingly have more than one enemy, and all of them are determined to thwart the plan for human survival in the universe. Maybe. It’s hard to figure it all out when you’re in the middle of a fight for your own personal survival, running from people who want to kill you, and doing all you can to catch up with some adults who can take responsibility for all the craziness that’s coming at you. All Liam can do, really, is follow his Mom’s advice and “take it one unknown at a time.”

” . . . the reality is, when you make your own decisions, you never really know where they’ll lead, or what will come next. All you can do is make choices and move forward. And actually, what ends up happening is, the more you learn, the more you realize you still have to learn. . . . We’ll take it one unknown at a time.”

I don’t know when the next book in the trilogy is coming out, probably next year. So, you may want to wait for all three books. I hate waiting for books in series. But this one was a good start.

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The Silver Gate by Kristin Bailey

Posted by Sherry on 5/8/2017 in 2017, Children's Fiction |

This middle grade novel has a medieval, feudal setting, and the author kept me guessing all the way through as to whether it would turn out to be fantasy/fairy tale or realistic fiction. In the story, Elric must take care of his sister Wynnfrith after their mother’s death and protect her from the villagers who think that because Wynn is mentally handicapped, she is a changeling child, switched at birth by the fairies and therefore cursed. The narrative follows the journey of the two children through the countryside as they look for a safe home where they can live free of prejudice and persecution and where they can take care of one another.

The writing isn’t sparkly or impressive, but the plot and characterization, especially the characters of Elric and Wynn, carry the story. While I was reading I thought a lot about how we treat mentally handicapped or mentally challenged children and adults now in the supposedly enlightened twenty-first century. Throughout the book, while the majority of villagers and strangers treat Wynnfrith with contempt or else they fear her curse, Elric learns that she is a person with her own ideas and her own strengths and weaknesses, even if her ability to express those ideas is limited. And although the children meet with much cruelty and bullying, there are a few kind people who help them along the way.

For all the talk we give to “diversity” and “acceptance” and “tolerance” in our society, our actions speak louder than our words. How many children’s books and movies feature children of average or below average mental capacity? If the child in the book is autistic or differently abled in some other way, he or she must be a hidden or misunderstood genius, not just a kid of average abilities who again, has some strengths and some weaknesses.

Even worse though than the dearth of mentally handicapped kid characters in books is the disappearance of the actual kids themselves from our society. Although the majority of women who carry a baby with Down’s Syndrome continue to carry that baby to term and give birth, a significant minority (30-40%?) choose abortion. What are we as a society missing when we selectively choose death for the mentally challenged? What does it say about the human beings that we value and those that we don’t when a decision to abort a baby with Down’s Syndrome becomes acceptable and even laudable in the eyes of many people?

I don’t know that one children’s book can change the perception that devalues and degrades those among us who are learning disabled or mentally handicapped, but it’s a start. I would that there were more books like The Silver Gate, books that, without preaching, give mentally handicapped characters a place in literature and treat them with respect and dignity.

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Saturday Review of Books: May 6, 2017

Posted by Sherry on 5/6/2017 in Saturday Reviews |

“You may perhaps be brought to acknowledge that it is very well worthwhile to be tormented for two or three years of one’s life, for the sake of being able to read all the rest of it.” ~Jane Austen

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

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