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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Two Terrific Books for Winter's Long Days

Reprinted from the Citizen:

Winter’s long days and even longer dark nights are a great time to dig into a good book, and this month’s Book Report has an historical novel and a memoir to enjoy.
Fans of historical fiction know Marie Benedict’s novels. They feature women who are not necessarily well-known, but who have been involved with famous men, Carnegie’s Maid and The Other Einstein among her most recent.
In her latest novel, The Only Woman in the Room, it is the woman herself who is the famous person. Actress Hedy Lamarr’s story is fictionalized here, and it is fascinating. 
Born in Vienna, young Hedy Keisler is becoming a recognized stage actress. When an older man, a known arms manufacturer, becomes infatuated with Hedy, her parents reluctantly encourage her to date him. He is an important man, well-connected to the government, and in 1930s Austria with the threat of Hitler looming and Hedy’s family being Jewish, to make an enemy of him could be dangerous.
Her husband is violent and controlling, and quick to anger. He uses Hedy as an accessory as he attempts to ingratiate himself to Hitler and his Nazi party. Hedy uses this to her advantage, sitting in meetings and eavesdropping on plans about the various arms that the Nazis are using in war.
When Hedy discovers that Hitler plans to eliminate the Jewish population not only in Germany, but also in Austria, she carefully plots her escape. After one unsuccessful attempt leaves her a prisoner in her own home, she escapes to America, where she works her way up in Hollywood.
She becomes a famous actress, but is haunted by what is going on in Europe. Hedy’s father encouraged her to study, and she was fascinated by science. When she was held prisoner, she pored over her husband’s technical arms books, learning much from them.
Hedy teamed up with a music composer to create a system for torpedoes to change frequencies, enabling them to bypass attempts to jam them. They worked endlessly for months, perfecting it and eventually getting a patent and submitting it to the government for use in war.
Hedy Lamarr’s role in this invention was relatively unknown until recently, and after reading The Only Woman in the Room, you’ll have an appreciation for her brains and work ethic, as well as her beauty and acting ability. Fans of Adriana Trigiani’s All the Stars in the Heavens will enjoy this one.
The first sentence in Stephanie Land’s memoir, Maid, is a memorable one: “My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter.” Land ended up there after her relationship with Mia’s father turned violent and she had to leave for their safety. 
She and Mia moved in with her father and stepmother, only to find that her father couldn’t cope, and became violent as well. With nowhere else to go, Stephanie was forced to move into a homeless shelter with Mia.
Stephanie gets a job as a part-time landscaper with her friend’s husband, and ends up working as a maid for a cleaning company. She takes us through the maze of government services that gave them a way to survive, but also tried to make her feel like she was lazy and shiftless.
She writes of an encounter with a horrible man in a grocery store. She is checking out using her benefits card when the man behind her in line follows her out of the store, screaming at her, “You’re welcome,” as if he personally paid for her groceries.
Land describes the backbreaking work as a maid, the sheer exhaustion and physicality of the job that left her in constant pain. She has to make every penny she earns count, and when she is in a car accident, you can feel her terror as she realizes her only means of getting to work is gone, but her daughter is safe.
Maid gives the reader a deeper understanding of the lives that many people in this country lead, people for whom every day is a struggle that leaves them emotionally as well as physically drained. I hope Land’s story will encourage people to be kinder and more empathetic to those who work at jobs most of us will never have to do.
Maid belongs on a reading list with Evicted and Nickel and Dimed, two other classic books about life for struggling Americans.
The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict
PUBLISHER: Sourcebooks
COST: Hardcover $25.99
LENGTH: 272 pages

Maid by Stephanie Land
COST: Hardcover $27
LENGTH: 288 pages

Monday, February 11, 2019

Golden Child by Claire Adam

Golden Child by Claire Adams
Published by SJP/Hogarth ISBN 9780525572992
Hardcover, $26, 281 pages

Actress Sarah Jessica Parker's first book from her SJP Hogarth imprint at Penguin Random House is the brilliant debut novel by Fatima Farheen Mirza, A Place For Us (my review here). The second book from her imprint is also a debut novel, Golden Child, by Claire Adam, and it is another fantastic novel.

Set in Trinidad, we meet Clyde Deyalsingh, a hardworking man, and his wife Joy. They have twin thirteen year-old boys, Peter and Paul, and live in a modest home that they own in a rural area. The boys travel a long way daily to their Catholic school.

Peter is a brilliant young man, and his parents are very proud of him and hope to be able to send him to a good college. When the boys were born, the cord was wrapped around Paul's neck and it has resulted in him being considered mentally challenged by many.

Joy's brother Vishnu believes that Peter could do great things and encourages Clyde to support Peter, even giving him money to do so. Father Kavanagh from the boys' school does not believe that Paul is mentally challenged and is tutoring him.

One day Paul leaves home to go for a walk and doesn't come back. Did Paul wander off and get lost, did he run away, or has something nefarious happened to him, perhaps related to the recent incident when two men came into their home and robbed and tied up Joy, Peter and Paul?

Much of the book takes place as Clyde tries to discover what has happened to his son. Clyde has always been a strong husband and father, and has worked hard to make a good life for his family. As he pieces together what has happened to Paul, he is forced to confront an unimaginable choice, one that puts him at odds with his family.

Golden Child immerses the reader in the countryside of Trinidad. We meet the neighbors and family of the Deyalsinghs. The homes all have dogs and barred windows to protect them, and in the wealthier neighborhoods, (including where Joy's brother Philip, a judge, lives) security guards on site.
The reader senses the undercurrent of danger that surrounds them, where at any moment they may be accosted by someone looking for money.

There are some wonderful food passages here as well. Joy makes a simple dinner for Clyde of "melongene choka, with plenty of onion and garlic, the way he likes it, some cucumber salad, and some warm paratha roti wrapped up in dishcloth."

Clyde eats at the work canteen, "where they have all kinds of food: dhalpuri roti and buss-up-shut, chicken wings and drumsticks, pelau, corn-soup, callaloo." You'll definitely want to look all these dishes up online.

SJP has done it again with  Claire Adams' Golden Child- found a debut novel with a brilliant distinctive voice, one that takes the reader into a culture they may not be familiar with, yet deals with universal theme of what it means to be part of a family, and the joy and heartbreak that can bring. I highly recommend it.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Claire Adams' tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Instagram Tour:

Monday, January 28th: @hotcocoareads
Tuesday, January 29th: @prose_and_palate
Tuesday, January 29th: @bookstackedblonde
Tuesday, January 29th: @dropandgivemenerdy
Wednesday, January 30th: @jennblogsbooks
Thursday, January 31st: @readingbetweenthe_wines
Thursday, January 31st: @bookishmadeleine
Friday, February 1st: @tbretc
Saturday, February 2nd: @eternalbooks_
Sunday, February 3rd: @bookclubwithbite

Review Tour:

Monday, January 28th: A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, January 29th: Rockin’ Book Reviews
Wednesday, January 30th: BookNAround
Thursday, January 31st: Amy’s Book-et List
Monday, February 4th: Run Wright
Tuesday, February 5th: @booksandpolkadots
Wednesday, February 6th: Book by Book
Thursday, February 7th: Palmer’s Page Turners
Monday, February 11th: Bookchickdi
Tuesday, February 12th: Books and Cats and Coffee
Wednesday, February 13th: Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, February 14th: Lit and Life
Monday, February 18th: Booktimistic and @booktimistic
Tuesday, February 19th: Eliot’s Eats
Wednesday, February 20th: @worldswithinpages
Thursday, February 21st: Wining Wife
Monday, February 25th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Monday, February 25th: @wherethereadergrows
Tuesday, February 26th: Tar Heel Reader and @tarheelreader
Wednesday, February 27th: @thesaggingbookshelf
Friday, March 1st: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Monday, February 4, 2019

Courage Between Love and Death by Joseph Pillitteri

Courage Between Life and Death by Joseph Pillitteri
Published by Fireship Press ISBN 9781611793888
Trade paperback,  $21.95, 295 pages

Joseph Pillitteri's novel, Courage Between Life and Death, appealed to me for two reasons- it is set in Buffalo (I'm from down the road in central New York) during President McKinley's visit where he was assassinated, and the main character is from a large Irish family.

Elspeth Shaughnesshey is a young nurse who feels lucky to have found a job working at the hospital at the Pan-American Exposition. Tourists have flocked to the Pan (as it's called) and although much of the day is dealing with children who have fallen and need stitches, it's an exciting place to be.

From a poverty stricken Irish family, Elspeth has seven family members she has to help support since her Da died. He owned the bar they lived above, but the bar has fallen on hard times. Her mother sewed beautiful dresses for wealthy women, but made little money from it.

The family is facing eviction, and six-year-old Katie is very sick. While handling all that, Elspeth also has to deal with the many doctors at the hospital who treat the nurses poorly. Dr. Kingdom fancies himself to be the smartest, most stylish doctor around. He also verbally abuses the nurses.

Dr. Gunner is kinder to the nurses, and some of them have a crush on him, like Harriet, Elspeth's friend, and a very competent nurse.

There is a charming party scene where President McKinley dances with Elspeth. I didn't know much about McKinley, but the author imbues him with a kindness and sense of humor. His wife is also a wonderful character who loves her husband very much.

The hospital scene where the doctors and nurses are desperately trying to save McKinley is gripping, and reading about nursing and hospitals in 1901 is fascinating. The race against the loss of sunlight in the operating room to finish the surgery was a page-turner.

I always like to find one fact in a novel that is interesting and new to me. In this book, it's that women will often have their wedding dresses turned into bassinette covers for their babies. What a lovely way to reuse a wedding dress!

The author's note at the end gives the reader some factual information that adds to the reality of the novel, including a photo of the head of the Pan hospital, Dr. Roswell Park, who went on to found Rosewell Park Hospital, a reknowned cancer hospital in Buffalo.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, Courage Between Love and Death is one to put on your to-be-read list. So many books cover WWI and WWII, this 1901 western New York setting is a refreshing change of pace. Anyone who is a nurse will enjoy reading about Elspeth's days at the hospital and what nursing was like back then. Fans of Charles Todd and Jacqueline Winspear will like this one.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Joseph Pillitteri's tour. The rest of his stops are here:

Monday, January 28th: Jessicamap Reviews and @jessicamap
Wednesday, January 30th: A Holland Reads
Thursday, January 31st: Patricia’s Wisdom
Monday, February 4th: Bookchickdi
Wednesday, February 6th: Amy’s Book-et List
Friday, February 8th: Rockin’ Book Reviews
Monday, February 11th: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, February 13th: Laura’s Reviews
Monday, February 19th: Blooming With Books
Wednesday, February 21st: Thoughts on This ‘n That
Thursday, February 22nd: Lori’s Reading Corner – guest post from Adele Pilitteri