CLEANING OUT OLD NOTES AND FILES, I FOUND…

…Notes on a short story collection I read in 2022 but never reviewed on PWR, so if you will indulge me, this one is too good to miss.

Oates is special to me because years and years ago, I heard her read from one of her books at the University of Houston. Never mind that it was probably her most boring book a non-fiction tome titled On Boxing, a history of and musings about the sport, in which I had no interest. Even her delivery was quiet and not particularly personable, but she was a famous author, and when I looked into her novels and short stories, I found out what a versatile, wonderful author she is. Over the years, I have read many books by Oates and now have to list her as one of my “favorites.”

This collection is about dark and deep themes, expressed in a lovely way; themes like suicide, abortion and vaguely disturbing feelings and thoughts . These things are handled in a way only Oates could. A longer story, almost a novella, is included about a young magazine writer who is given the opportunity to interview Robert Frost in his declining years. It is highly imaginative and written in a way that could cause some readers to believe it actually happened that way. Oates has a masterpiece here; it is suspenseful as it deals with women’s “place,” male chauvinism, authors’ egos, and independent young women who are “ahead of their time” in their thinking. I enjoyed it immensely, and would recommend this book on the basis of that story alone. I’ll bet Oates had fun writing it!

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SATURDAY MORNINGS FOR KIDS

Just as Saturday mornings were reserved for kids’ cartoons on 50s and 60s TV programming, PWR reserves Saturday Mornings for reviews of kids’ books. Today’s recommendation was previously used for a First Line Fridays’ post.

Thanks” Reading Is My Superpower” host for loaning the image.

Today’s book is the awaited sequel to…

…by my favorite children’s author…

Alda B. Dobbs

As noted in the “Friday Firstliners”post, The Other Side of the River begins minutes after The Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna leaves off. Barefoot Dreams ended with a cliffhanger, and now that River is coming out September 2nd, we can finally exhale.

Usually the sequel to a novel disappoints me, but this sequel is every bit as warm and suspenseful and adventurous as the original novel about the Mexican Revolution.

Petra Luna is a tween, but her responsibilities are those of an adult. Set in San Antonio, this historical novel, based on the stories of Alda Dobbs’ great grandmother, have been researched extensively to confirm the tales her grandmother spun of her early life. As an immigrant in the United States, she is the primary provider for her grandmother, her sister, and her baby brother. Dedicated to her promise to keep the family together after the death of her mother and the Federalies’ conscription of her father, Petra faces new adventures in her new home. Tricked by unscrupulous people and aided by others, Petra works hard and never forgets her dream of learning to read and write. As she meets the Chili Queens, the kindly nuns of the convent and other indigenous characters to the Mexican-flavored society of San Antonio, she manages to keep her family afloat and to search for news of her father.

The story is one that kept this reader turning pages, and although I was skeptical of whether this sequel could incorporate the adventures (or misadventures) of Barefoot Dreams, I was rewarded with breathtaking, edge-of-your-seat scenes that kept me up late because I was rooting so hard for Petra, and couldn’t wait until morning to see how the book “came out.”

It is definitely a darned good read for kids and adults alike. Even younger kids could enjoy Petra’s story when read to, and the novel has something for everyone. I highly recommend it.

NEVER HAVE I EVER by Joshilyn Jackson: A Review

Rarely do I read books described as “thrillers.” Either they don’t deliver or the thrill part is so good that it makes me anxious. Never Have I Ever falls into the latter category. This 2019 novel kept me on the edge of my chair and turning pages late into the night.

An excellent, suspenseful read

The story begins with a book club meeting (definitely a plus), and a strange woman who comes to the door wanting to join the group. This new-to-the-neighborhood woman, Roux, is as exotic as her name, especially to the mundane every-day housewives and mothers gathered at Amy’s house for book club. Time magazine calls this a novel with “dramatic reveals about [each] woman’s complex histories.” As the story progresses we meet up with blackmail. family secrets, relationships, second marriages, and step parenting issues.

It is a story of two women, both complex, compelling characters. Amy, the protagonist, the “good guy,” or is she? and Roux, the antagonist, the “bad guy, is she ever! plot against each other as they play out a dangerous game started that fateful night at the book club meeting.

Who knew what lurked in Roux’s past? Who knew the dark secret Amy was hiding? The women of the book club, although secondary characters are well-developed and integral to the progression of the twists and turns of the plot. And the ending–oh the ending –is both exciting and satisfactory.

This is a thriller I highly recommend. It was a “darned good read.”

One W Wednesday

Triple W Wednesdays is a meme where one tells WHAT you have finished, WHAT you are currently reading, and WHAT you will read next. I prefer to keep it simple, dealing only with one of the W’s, WHAT I have just finished.

I finished the following book I had checked out of my local library this past week.
An exciting YA read that builds suspense all the way to its excellent climax.

This 2021 publication was picked as a Pure Belpre Honor Book, and definitely earned that honor. Petra Pena, the twelve-year-old protagonist, only wanted one thing to become a Cuentista, a storyteller like her abuelita, her grandmother. As the narrative opens, Halley’s Comet is going to collide with earth. Petra, her mother, father and little brother, Javier, blast off on a spaceship headed for a new planet. The trip will take hundreds of years, so the family is put in a sleep-state, frozen until their arrival. The family keeps Petra’s bad eyesight a secret, and they are cleared to start the survival mission.

When “they,” an evil Corporation that has taken over the ship and trip, awaken Petra, her parents’ and brother’s sleeping pods are empty. The Corporation had intended to erase every sleeping person’s memories of earth from their minds, but with Petra, for some reason, it didn’t work. Petra fakes being brainwashed until she can solve the mystery of what became of her parents and brother. Secretly, she recounts stories of earth to her brainwashed roommates, and slowly their memories come back. They escape in a small spacepod/ship and land on the target planet. Higuera’s fast-paced, sci fi story has a very satisfying ending. It is a story of friendships, family loyalty, mystery , and adventure.I definitely would describe it as a darned good read.

Thanks, Evin.
This meme asks the blogger to choose a passage from a current read that will “tease” other readers into reading the book. What? no blog? Then leave your Tuesday Teaser in the comments below.

Today’s teaser comes from a book I have almost finished. The passage is on page 352. Tess (Miller the love-interest’s autistic daughter) has just forced the babysitter to break off Miller and Emma’s first date , asking Miller to come home; Tess has created a disaster (again!) When the couple arrive at Miller’s house the scene is described by Emma (protagonist):

“[Tess] was currently sliding around like a cheerful otter, completely soaked in corn oil…Miller paid [the babysitter] who was more than ready to leave and stink-eyeing Tess…” The sitter had been trying to make brownies

“…even without the spilled corn oil, the kitchen was a disaster…batter and beaters were dripping outside the sink…Flour and sugar had spilled on the counter, and every ingredient was unwrapped and spilled, including a stick of butter that looked like Tess had taken a bite out of. But the real mess was, of course, the floor. An entire half gallon of corn oil. According to [the babysitter] Tess had poured it on the cat to make him ‘pretty.’ There were smears of corn oil on the walls, on the floor.” When Miller handed paper towels to Tess, she said,

” ‘Thank you, Daddy.’ She smeared them in the puddles of oil and put them on her head. Miller sighed.”

Talk about a disastrous first date! Well, it gets worse, and ends up with Tess cutting herself, attacking Emma with a hand-held mixer whose beaters get entangled in her long hair, and a trip to the emergency room for stitches for Tess and a shaved haircut for Emma because the beaters are pulling her hair out by the roots, and the pain is unbearable. This book has it all: romance, women’s friendships, family secrets, conflict between generations, and more.

This book is turning out to be a DARNED GOOD READ!

Thank you, Evin.

PRESENT OVER PERFECT by Shauna Niequest: “Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living”

This book includes a foreword by Brene Brown, and quite frankly, I am sure the author has read some of Brown’s books, for their philosophies are similar. This book encourages one to :”Live a life of meaning and connection instead of pushing for perfection.”

Niequist describes her journey and invites the reader to join her on it.

The author begins with these words, “A few years ago I found myself exhausted and isolated, my soul and body sick. I was tired of being tired, burned out, and busy.”

Ever been there? I have. Like the author, I have longed for “connection, meaning and depth,” only to settle for “busy.” Sometimes I have even chosen “busy” as a distraction to keep myself from thinking, from introspective thoughts and from searching deep within. Niequist explains a new way to live, incorporating grace, love, rest and play, which “changed everything.” Her challenge, first to herself, then to the reader is to find her “essential self.” She teaches us to embrace silence and stillness in her collection of essays. Her technique allows us “to be present in the middle of the mess and ordinariness of life.”

This author brought home the peace and gracefulness of her Lake Vacation home with her and has never lost it since. My favorite essays were “Learning to Play” and “The Spring of the Basketball Hoop.” Both describe the value of play, family, and friends. I would rate this 5 on a scale of 1-5 and would describe it as a “darned good read.”

RAE

THE RULES OF LOVE AND GRAMMAR by Mary Simses: A Review

If there is such a thing as a cozy romance novel, this is one.

In her 2016 publication, Simses has created a Grammar Nazi in her protagonist. Grace Hammond corrects poor grammar usage wherever she encounters it. As the story opens, Grace has lost her job, her boyfriend, her apartment, and is forced to return to her parents’ home in Connecticut. Tragedy took her older sister years ago, and her parents have never gotten over or spoke of it since. It is a romance, one I would christen a “cozy romance,” and three different love interests are present: Peter, a high school boyfriend, now a renowned filmmaker who has returned to town to shoot a movie; Sean, an actor who recently was proclaimed The Sexiest Man Alive, also in town; and Mitch, the bike guy. Cluny, her best friend and sidekick since elementary school rounds out the cast of supporting characters.

Each chapter features a rule of grammar, followed by an example sentence which often foreshadows what will happen in the chapter. Here is an example from the beginning of Chapter 19: “Collective nouns are singular and are typically paired with singular verbs. A film crewe often works very long hours.” In this pleasurable novel, Grace, the main character ” finds love and closure, and rediscovers herself. ” The book is a darned good read.

Cats and books–add people, and you have my three favorite things!

READING IN BED by Sue Gee: A Review

If a book is about books or reading, it hits my TBR pile or folder. Reading in Bed’s cover grabbed me immediately, as did its title–something I do frequently.

I started this book during Dewey’s Readathon in April and finished it a few days afterwards. I never reviewed the book, however, and it deserves at least that for being a “darned good read.”

Georgia, recently widowed, and Dido have been best friends for years. The novel opens with the two women returning from a book convention/fair/retreat. As they separate and return to their homes in different towns, each re-evaluates their everyday, “normal” life apart from the literary world they have just left. Georgia is lonely, odd-friend-out at all gatherings, struggling with her relationship with her daughter; and Dido finds “evidence” that her husband of so many years may be having an affair. Through all the details of their lives, their connection with each other remains sturdy and strong.

Georgia has a side-plot, an eccentric, elderly cousin of her late husband”goes completely off the rails,” and it is up to Georgia to step in and “do something.”Dido also has a side-plot, the marriage and family life of her children and grandchildren, and shockingly, the true story behind the “assumed” affair of her husband. There are enough twists and turns in the plot to titillate the most demanding reader. Both women find themselves “…turning to a well-loved book or a true friend” to get through the situation.

As one critic cited, Reading is “an insightful, witty book about life, friendship, and love.” I loved the book and everything about it, making it a darned good read!

THE PRINTED LETTER BOOKSHOP by Katherine Reay: A Review

This 2019 publication was one I listened to on Hoopla, provided by my local Brazoria County Library system. I finally got the skill of listening down as I listened while I chopped vegetables, just rested with the lights low,. or opened and cut up junk mail. Reay, now one of my favorite writers, opens with the funeral of Aunt Maddie, the owner of The Printed Letter Bookshop. When Madeline Cullen, her niece attends the funeral, she finds the church packed. Her parents have flown in to pay respects to her father’s older sister, and they leave immediately after the funeral.

A good read by one of my favorite authors

Shortly thereafter, Madeline receives a call saying Aunt Maddie has left her house, the bookshop, and even her car to her niece. At first, Madeline, a high-powered lawyer, with a business-driven fiancee want to sell the shop asap. Until she meets the employees of The Printed Letter on her assessment trip to the bookshop. Janet, a recent divorcee, and Claire, a quiet wife and mother are praying Madeline will try to pull the bookshop “out of the red” and continue their livelihoods.

Described as “powerful” and “spirited” and called an “enchanted story” by the cover and the critics, The Painted Letter Bookstore involves a family mystery, relationships between women, and romance. It is “a story of good books, a testament to the beauty of new beginnings, and a sweet reminder of the power of friendship.” I loved this contemporary read, which points out the existence of second chances and the redemption and forgiveness of things not understood in the past. It is a “darned good read.”

THE QUICKENING by Michelle Hoover: A Review

A former student sent me this book before Christmas, and it wasn’t until recently that I got to it. I finished it earlier this week and mailed it back because she confessed she hadn’t read it either. I think she will enjoy this debut novel as much as I did.

The word “quickening” means a coming to life, specifically the sensation a woman has when she holds life inside her womb, and it stirs. Two women, Enidina and Mary, neighbors on the prairies of the midwest during the summer of 1915-the winter of 1950, are the main characters. Their stories and their strange relationship unfold throughout the hardships of farm life during the droughts, dustbowl and Depression of the U.S. Frank and Jack , their husbands are as different from one another as are their wives. The story is “gripping at its very core,” and deals in spousal and child abuse, infidelity, repeated miscarriages, and dark secrets that accompany the characters hardscrabble lives. The characters are all complex and authentic, perhaps because Hoover is “the granddaughter of four longtime farming families.” She captures the women’s voices in their dialog and their sense of self-preservation in their thoughts. The novel is a page turner, written in “elegant prose.” I recommend it as a darned good read.