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Monday, March 29, 2021

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge

Libertie by Kaityn Greenidge
Published by Algonquin Books ISBN 9781616207014
Hardcover, $26.95, 336 pages

Kaitlyn Greenidge's historical novel Libertie is the second book I've read in two weeks dealing with the role of women in the Civil War era (Dorothy Wickenden's nonfiction The Agitators about the lives of Harriet Tubman, Frances Seward and Martha Wright is the other), and it's a revelation.

As the novel opens, Libertie is a dark-skinned Black 11 year-old daughter of Cathy, a light-skinned Black female physician living in Brooklyn during the Civil War. Libertie's father is dead, and in addition to caring for the people of her community, Cathy also aids people on the Underground Railroad.

Madame Elizabeth, whose husband is an undertaker, brings Cathy an escaped slave hiding in a coffin. Cathy resusitates the man, Ben, and then Ben is sent to live in town with other escaped men. Libertie is drawn to Ben, and he has a strong effect on her.

In one striking passage in 1863, during what became known as the New York Draft Riots, mobs of Irish people burned down a Black children's orphange to protest being drafted to fight in the Civil War, and the children that could be saved were rowed across the river to Brooklyn where Cathy and Elizabeth and others rushed to help the refugees. I don't recall learning about this horrifying event in history class.

Cathy and other Black women formed the Ladies' Intelligence Society, and they planned to build a hospital to treat Black people, with a focus on women's health issues. Soon, she began to treat white women who turned to Cathy with reproductive issues they couldn't get help with in their own communities. They allowed Cathy, with her light skin, to treat them, but many wouldn't allow the dark-skinned Libertie to touch them.

Cathy arranged for Libertie to attend a Black college in Ohio to train to become a doctor like herself. While at school, Libertie does not get the grades necessary to continue, and she is afraid to tell her mother when she returns home. 

Libertie meets the doctor who is now assisting her mother, and she agrees to marry him and move to Haiti, where his father and sister have fled the scourge of slavery in the United States. Cathy is furious that the dreams she had for her daughter are gone, that Libertie has chosen to be a wife and mother as her life's ambition.

Adjusting to life in Haiti is difficult for Libertie, her father-in-law and sister-in-law do not treat her kindly, and her husband appears too busy to notice. She becomes attached to TiMe, the family servant, and discovers a troubling situation, one she will not ignore.

Libertie tells her own story here, and people who love Toni Morrison's novels will find themselves drawn to Kaitlyn Greenidge's lyrical style of writing, with an element of magic involved. Libertie has a strong mother-daughter story at its core, and I for one would love to read Cathy's own story told by her as well.

We read to put ourselves in the shoes of others, and read historical fiction to feel how people lived in other times other than ours, and Libertie accomplishes both of those brilliantly. I can see why so many publications called it one of the most anticipated books of 2021. Libertie the book and Libertie the person are unforgettable.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Kaitlyn Greenidge's book tour.

Just My Luck by Adele Parks

Just My Luck by Adele Parks
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778331735
Trade paperback, $17.99, 384 pages

Adele Parks' domestic drama Just My Luck begins with an intriguing premise, one that many of us wish for- what would you do if you won the lottery? 

Three families have been friends since the birth of their children fifteen years ago. Each month they get together on a Saturday evening for dinner, and they put money into the pot to play the national lottery. Lexi Greenwood, "the woman everyone knows as the fixer, the smiler- some may even slightly snidely call a do-gooder" collects the money and buys the ticket, playing the same numbers each month.

Lexi and her husband Jake are less-well off than the other two couples, and one Saturday evening the other two couples decide that the lottery is "too common" and decide to stop playing. The following week their numbers were drawn, and Lexi and Jake are the big winners of nearly 18 million pounds, a life-changing amount of money.

Lexi is cautious about their win, wanting to take it slow and figure out how best to handle their new situation. Jake and Emily (their 15 year-old daughter), buy expensive new clothes, a fancy sportscar for Jake, luxury vacations, and a huge new home. Lexi fears this money will turn them into people no one likes.

Right away things become complicated. Three people break into their home while Lexi is home demanding money and threatening her. Family, people they don't know, and charities all over the world send them requests for money. The two couples who stopped playing demand their fair share of the money, claiming that Lexi and Jake are cheating them.

Emily's best friends are the children of the two couples, including her boyfriend Ridley. The lottery win shows the cracks in all their friendships, and even in Jake and Lexi's marriage. Lexi is forced to take a leave of absence from her job at the Citizen's Advice Bureau helping people in need when people mob her place of employment.

Just My Luck has some twists and turns you don't see coming, and Parks does a good job keeping the reader engaged and guessing. As you read it, in the back of your mind, you wonder how you would handle the situation. Would the money change you or reveal the person you truly are? Jake and Lexi are both keeping secrets from each other, secrets that create an crackerjack of an ending. Adele Parks does a fantastic job combining domestic drama with suspense, in a page-turner of a story.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on the Winter 2021 Mystery & Thriller Tour.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Friday 5ive- March 26, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. Can you believe that it is the last Friday in March already? This month has flown by.

1)  Spring is here and we passed by The Mark Hotel in our neighborhood which has this lovely cart of flowers outside their front door to brighten everyone's day.

2)  We had our annual St. Patrick's Day dinner on Saturday, a few days late. I made the traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner, with carrots and Irish champ potatoes. The highlight of our dinner is always the Irish Bread Pudding with Caramel Whiskey Sauce, our favorite dessert of the year. I found the recipe in Cooking Light magazine years ago, and it is a family legacy now. The recipe is here. This year I also found these cute cookies at Citerella, a gourmet food store in our neighborhood. They were tasty!

3)  With the weather turning nicer, I met my husband at La Villetta, a local Italian restaurant halfway between his office and our apartment. We ate outside, and I ordered an appetizer of figs stuffed with blue cheese and walnuts and wrapped in proscuitto, over a bed of greens with a light creamy dressing over all. The presentation was so pretty and it was delicious.

4)  I watched the Academy Award Best Picture nominee Nomadland on Hulu this week. Frances McDormand is deservedly nominated for Best Actress in her role as Fern, a 60-something woman who lost her husband, and then her job and home when the manufacturing plant where she worked at closed. Fern ends up living in a van, and traveling around the west looking for work. She works the holiday season at an Amazon fullfilment center, and follows her friends around working in jobs like maintenance at a campground. The movie is based on Jessica Bruder's book of the same name, and Chloe Zhao's magnificent direction of the movie has earned her an Academy Award nomination as well. The one thing that you take from this movie is how invisible women of this age can be. It's a thought-provoking, heart-breaking piece of art.

5)  I read two books this week, one nonfiction and one fiction. Dorothy Wickenden's The Agitators, tells the true story of three women who lived in Auburn in the 1860s- Frances Seward (wife of Henry Seward), Martha Wright, and Harriet Tubman- and fought for women's suffrage, and the abolition of slavery. It's filled with lots of fascinating historical facts about my hometown of Auburn, NY, and students of Civil War era-history will want to put this one on their To Be Read list. My full review will publish in April in The Citizen newspaper and online at auburnpub.com. 

Adele Parks' domestic drama, Just My Luck, asks the question "what would you do if you won millions of dollars in the lottery?" Three couples who have been friends for fifteen years since their babies were born play the lottery once a month together. When two of the families decide they no longer wish to play and drop out, the lone couple left hits the winning numbers the following week. What happens next reveals cracks in their friendship and marriages, affects their children, and may make you rethink playing Lotto every week. My full review publishes on Monday. 

Stay safe, socially distant, wear a mask, wash your hands, and get the vaccine when it's your turn. We are so close to getting back to some type of normalcy.

This post was shared with The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader's Weekend Cooking posts.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Path to Sunshine Cove by RaeAnne Thayne

The Path to Sunshine Cove by RaeAnne Thayne
Published by Harlequin ISBN 9781335665430
Harcover, $27.99, 336 pages

Sometimes you just need a comforting read, a book that you curl up with at the end of hard day. RaeAnne Thayne's new novel, The Path to Sunshine Cove, perfectly fits that bill.

The setting is Cape Sanctuary, a California coast town "defined by whimsical houses, overflowing gardens, wind chimes, and Japanese fishing balls." Jess is in Cape Sanctuary for work; she travels the country helping people clean out and reorganize their homes. Her task is to help Eleanor, a woman who lost her husband six months ago, and now wants to downsize her beautiful home.

Eleanor's adult son Nate and his teenage daughter Sophie live in a home on the property and are taken by surprise when Jess shows up in cute little Airstream trailer to help Eleanor. Nate is gruff with Jess, and not happy to be blindsided by her presence.

Jess will also visit with her sister Rachel, something that doesn't occur too often. Jess unexpectedly shows up at Rachel's home, just as Rachel is dealing with two young daughters and her three year-old son, who is on the autism spectrum and having a bad day.

We are given clues that something traumatic happened to Jess and Rachel, and that incident caused the two sisters to become estranged after the death of their parents. Jess joined the army and served in the Middle East, and Rachel married her high school boyfriend Cody and started her family.

Rachel is an Instagram influencer, and projects a happy, wonderful life to the world. But her son's diagnosis and husband's consuming job as a construction company owner has been causing her stress she is unwilling to admit to anyone, particularly her sister.

Jess is a loner, with only one close friend, her fellow soldier and business partner. She finds herself attracted to Nate, and enjoys the company of his mother and daughter, but is wary of becoming more involved with the family.

Thayne does a wonderful job with the sibling relationship between Jess and Rachel, and the marital relationship with Rachel and Cody. Cody wants to help Rachel, and he is a good father to his children, but Rachel can be too rigid and it could drive him away. I think many women may be able to see some of themselves in Rachel.

You know what you are going to get in a RaeAnne Thayne novel- characters you care about, in situations that you can relate to (and some you thankfully can't), in a beautiful setting. I enjoy learning about other people's jobs, and I found Jess' career going into people's homes and helping them organize fascinating. I have a friend who is so good at this, all she needs is an Airstream trailer.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Women's Fiction Winter Blog Tour.

Monday, March 22, 2021

New in Paperback- Two Funny Books About Marriage

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

With Valentine’s Day in the rear view mirror, it’s intriguing that two new releases deal with marriage and divorce in humorous novels- Matthew Norman’s Last Couple Standing and Gigi Levangie’s Been There, Married That. 

Matthew Norman’s previous novels, Domestic Violets and We’re All Damaged deal with men who are having difficult times in work and marriage. In his latest novel, Last Couple Standing, we get both the husband and wife’s stories. 

Mitch and Jessica met at college, and became one of the Core Four- four men and four women who were friends, and then all paired up and married. The group did everything together- got married, had children, lived in the same city. For nearly twenty years they were inseparable.

And then one of the couples got a divorce. It wasn’t a complete surprise, if they were all to be honest, they knew that Terry and Megan loved each other the least. Terry was cheating on his wife, so divorce was inevitable. 

After the first, came the second, which was more shocking because Sarah and Doug seemed the most in love- until Sarah reconnected with an old boyfriend on Instagram, and Doug became involved with his “work wife.”

Four months later, Amber and Alan got divorced after realizing they were never in love. All this shook Jessica and Mitch to the core. They became afraid that they would catch divorce from their friends, and wanted to find a way to avoid that disease.

Since most of the breakups seemed to be related to infidelity, Jessica and Mitch came up with a plan. They would each have sex with someone else, and get it out of their system to save their marriage. They came up with a set of strict rules, so what could possibly go wrong? Well, a lot it seems.

Norman writes characters that are so relatable, you feel like they are people you know. His dialogue seems like he has eavesdropped on people at the table next to him in a restaurant. He had me laughing out loud at some of his lines, and then in the next paragraph you feel sorry for the characters. Last Couple Standing is a cautionary tale for married adults, where you find that the grass isn’t always greener. I recommend it.

Gigi Levangie’s hilarious novel, Been There, Married That begins with Aggie, the wife of Hollywood uber-producer Trevor, at her 48th birthday party. Of course Trevor has gone all-out for the party, with the most expensive champagne at the hottest restaurant in town. He is excited to give Aggie her gift, which he makes a big production out of presenting to her in front of everyone- a Fitbit.  

And so begins their story. Aggie is a Hollywood wife who has written a novel she hopes will be made into a movie. Trevor is a classic Hollywood husband, who one day decides that he is putting his marriage in “turnaround”- which in Hollywood-speak means he wants a divorce.

Aggie is even more shocked than when he gave her the Fitbit. It appears that their assistant, who now wears her hair like Aggie’s and wears the same clothes as Aggie (wait, are those Aggie’s actual clothes?) is now sleeping in Trevor’s bed. But they just cuddle.

Aggie’s lawyer tells her not to move out of the house, so she is given a schedule of when she can use certain rooms in the house. Trevor does not want to bump into her when he is getting his breakfast.

Eventually Trevor gets nastier (if that is even possible). He sues for custody of their tweenage daughter, whom he never spends time with. Aggie gets even when her sister Fin shows up after a stint in prison. 

Fin is "the Solange to Aggie’s Beyonce"; she will not let Trevor get away with mistreating her sister. Trevor needs everything in its place, like the notepads next to the phone, which must be placed at a specific angle. Fin and Aggie move all of his furniture, and every item he owns in the house, two inches. It drove him nuts.

Been There, Married That is a hilarious novel, perfect for fans of any of the Real Housewives TV series (although I am not a fan of those and I enjoyed this book a great deal). Gigi Levangie knows how to write zinging dialogue, and having been previously married to producer Brian Glazer, she knows this Hollywood scene intimately. If you need a good laugh, pick this book up.

Last Couple Standing by Matthew Norman- A-
Published by Ballantine
Trade paperback, $17, 288 pages

Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie- A
Published by St. Martin’s Press
Trade paperback, $17.99, 336 pages

Friday, March 19, 2021

Friday 5ive- March 19, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. This week was always a big celebration week back in my Catholic School days- we had St. Patrick's Day on March 17th (there was a large Irish population in my city and our principal was Sister Walter Anne O'Malley) and St. Joseph's Day is celebrated on March 19th. (The nuns at our school were Sisters of St. Joseph).

1) I made a new recipe from the New York Times this week- Skillet Hot Honey Chicken with Hardy Greens. It was so easy and quick to make, and since we don't like hot, I used a very mild pepper. You can use whatever pepper you like. We like bone-in thighs, and the crispy skin with the honey/apple cider vinegar sauce on the greens (we used romaine lettuce) was delicious. We paired it with salt potatoes. It's a great weeknight quick dinner and the recipe is here.

2) We made a trip to Wine Geeks in Armonk on Saturday. It's housed in a converted gas station, and the interior keeps that look with stacked metal shelving for the wine. I really liked the unique look of the shop, and we had a nice chat with the knowledgeable and friendly store owners Derek and Carol Todd. They had a well curated selection of wine and spirits, and if you ever find yourself in Westchester County, stop by.

3)  I did three book Zooms this week. On Adriana Trigiani's Tuesday edition of AdrianaInk's Facebook Live this week, she hosted two funny ladies -Laraine Newman from the original Saturday Night Live cast, (talking about her Audible.com original book, May You Live In Interesting Times about New York City in the 1970s and her time at SNL) and Susie Essman, (who plays the foul-mouthed and most popular character Susie Greene on Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm). All three of these ladies are so interesting, the conversation could have gone on all night.
On Wednesday, I listened to Pamela Klinger-Horn interview Lauren Willig (Band of Sisters), Kate Quinn (The Rose Code) and Elizabeth Wetmore (Valentine) about their historical fiction books. All three women's books deal with women working together to deal with difficult situations- Band of Sisters is about Smith College alumni helping French villagers in WWI, The Rose Code shares the story of three women working at Bletchley Park in London during WWII attempting to decode German war communications, and Valentine deals with the aftermath of a vicious attack on a young Mexican teenager and the effect that had on her and other women in Odessa, Texas in the 1970s. I loved all three books, and the discussion was enlightening.
Thursday's Zoom was a discussion with Michael J. Fox talking about his memoir (that deals with living  with Parkinson's Disease) No Time Like The Future with his friend mystery writer Harlan Coben, talking about his book Win (a book that will surely keep you up at night to finish). The men have been friends for years, so the conversation was easy and both men's books would make good gifts. Maybe they will write a book together about golf someday. (My husband would like that.)

4) We finally got around to watching the comedy Ted Lasso on AppleTV+. This is the show we all need during the pandemic! Ted Lasso (played by Jason Sudeikis, who is winning all the awards for his fabulous perfomance) is a small college American football coach who is hired to coach a Premier soccer team in England, even though he knows NOTHING about soccer. The female owner of the team, brilliantly played by Hannah Waddingham, wants to decimate her ex-husband's team that she won in her divorce. It is such a happy show that will put a smile on your face, filled with hilarious laughs and Ted Lasso is a guileless, sweet character. The writing is pitch-perfect and the acting by all is wonderful. If you don't have AppleTV+, you can get a free 7 day trial- you can watch all 10 half-hour episodes in seven days then cancel. Trust me, after all the serial killer documentaries you have been watching, you need this.

5) I read two books this week. The first is Silence Is A Sense by Layla AlAmmar, about a 24 year-old Syrian refugee in Great Britain. She spends her days looking into the windows of her neighbors in her apartament complex. The trauma she suffered during her escape from Syria and her journey across Europe have caused her to not speak, which most people take to mean that she is deaf. It's a stunning book, and I've never read a book that put me more into the head of a character as this one. My full review is here.

You always know what you're getting in a RaeAnne Thayne book, and her new novel gives us characters to root for in a beautiful setting, and a situation some can relate to in The Path to Sunshine Cove Jess travels the country helping people downsize and organize their home and when she ends up in her sister Rachel's town, they have a chance to repair their broken relationship. Rachel's Instagram life is not as beautiful as it seems though, as she deals with her young son's diagnosis on the spectrum, two young daughters, and a husband busy building his career as a construction company owner. The sisters have yet to deal with the tragedy that took their parents years ago, will they let that tear them further apart or bring them together? My full review publishes Tuesday. 

Stay safe and socially distant, wear a mask, wash your hands and get the vaccine when it's your turn. We are getting so close to getting back to good times, can you feel it?

This post was shared with The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader's Weekend Cooking posts.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear
Published by Harper ISBN 9780062868022
Hardcover, $27.99, 352 pages

It's been two years since we had a Maisie Dobbs fix, as author Jacqueline Winspear published a memoir last year in place of her annual Maisie Dobbs historical mystery. 

In  2019's The American Agent, London was dealing with the Blitz, the nightly bombing of London. Maisie and her best friend Priscilla drove an ambulance ferrying injured civilians, and Pris was seriously burned as they pulled injured children out of danger. One of Pris' sons was seriously injured during the evacuation of trapped troops in Dunkirk. It was a harrowing time for Maisie and company.

In the new novel, The Consequences of Fear,  private investigator and psychologist Maisie Dobbs has been pressed into service in the SOE (Special Operatives Executive) by her old comrade Robert McFarlane. She is tasked with psychologically evaluating people who will be sent into France as spies.

At the same time, her private investigation office has a new case- a young boy who has been acting as a messenger witnesses a murder but the police seem to be reluctant to admit that there was a murder. Maisie and her able assistant Billy Beale work to discover why and what connection it may have to the French resistance working in London.

Maisie's personal life has taken center stage in this novel. Her young adopted daughter Anna is growing very attached to Maisie and Maisie's father and stepmother, and Mark Scott, who works at the American embassy in London, has become an important part of Maisie's life. Is Maisie ready to let love back into her life after the tragic loss of her husband years ago?

The Consequences of Fear is vintage Maisie Dobbs. The juggling of her private investigation work and  confidential government work is becoming increasingly more difficult, and with the war ramping up in Europe, the next novels in the series are sure to examine that. 

This is the 16th novel in the series, and not one that you can jump into without having background on Maisie Dobbs. Start at the beginning and you'll find Maisie's story as fascinating as I do. It's one of the only series that I have read every book, and it's a terrific series for high school age young women to read, as Maisie is a terrific role model. It's also a great Women's History Month read. Maise Dobbs fans will be pleased with this one.

My review of The American Agent is here.
My blog post about Jacqueline Winspear's visit to Barnes & Noble is here

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Happy St. Patrick's Day

As I am of Irish descent, I like reading books by Irish authors, and books with Irish characters and set in Ireland. In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I have compiled links to some books I have reviewed that fit this category. Slainté!

Click on the book title to go to my review.

Mary Higgins Clark- A Piece of My Heart

Helen Cullen- The Dazzling Truth

Jude Deveraux & Tara Sheets- Chance of a Lifetime

Ciara Geraghty- Rules of the Road

J. Courtney Sullivan- Friends and Strangers

Lian Dolan- The Sweeney Sisters

Jeannie Gaffigan- When Life Gives You Pears

Maureen Stanton- Body Leaping Backwards

Mary Beth Keane- Ask Again, Yes

Santa Montefiore- The Daughters of Ireland

Lisa Genova- Inside the O'Briens

Erin McHugh- One Good Deed

Matthew Thomas- We Are Not Ourselves

Hazel Gaynor - A Memory of Violets   

Alice McDermott- Someone  

Kate Mulgrew- Born With Teeth

On Broadway- Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman  

On Broadway- John Patrick Shanley's Outside Mullingar


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Silence Is A Sense by Layla AlAmmar

Silence Is A Sense by Layla AlAmmar
Published by Algonquin Books ISBN 9781643750262
Hardcover, $25.95, 304 pages

I've never read a book that does a better job of putting the reader inside the mind of the narrator than Layla AlAmmar's novel Silence Is A Sense. 

The unnamed narrator is a 24 year-old Syrian refugee who has resettled in Great Britain. The novel opens with her narrating the sights she sees looking from her apartment into the windows of other tenants in the complex. 

There is Juice Man, a very fit man who has a stringent exercise program and entertains several women and a few men in his apartment. There is an elderly man who also lives alone, a family where the father beats the mother, while their teenage daughter sits in her room with headphones on and their teenage son has anger issues, and Tom and his wife Ruth, who keeps tabs on activities in the complex. We see them so clearly through her eyes.

Our narrator doesn't speak, leaving her neighbors to believe her deaf. She doesn't disabuse them of this notion, it makes it easier to avoid any type of relationship with them. She is too fragile.

We learn that she fled the violence and bombings in Syria, losing contact with her family in the process.
She made her way through Europe, through horrific conditions in refugee settlements, and a young woman on her own in this situation suffers physical, sexual and emotional violence that causes unbearable trauma.

The narrator gives us glimpses of her previous life- her parents and siblings, life at university protesting the brutal Syrian regime of Al-Assad, the daily barrage of bombings that killed so many thousands of innocent people. 

She writes essays under the name The Voiceless, and her editor pressures her to reveal more of her life fleeing Syria, something she is unable to do as she is "cornered by memories, caged in by recollections". Her pieces become more controversial as she is critical of the people who are marching with their posters, willing to speak up but not actually do anything to help the humans fleeing their homeland.

A violent attack on a Muslim forces the people in the neighborhood to face up to the racism and religious intolerance amongst them. The Imam of the mosque said of it:
"No god you believe in will be okay with this. You must do unto others as you want them to do to you. That is it. That is all of it. There is nothing else which matters. That is what all the great religions of the world tell us."

That resonated so much with me. 

I can tell how much I get from a book by how many highlights I make. Silence Is A Sense is covered with highlights, with insights into the plight of refugees, how memories can be deceiving, how dangerous it is for us to blame "the other" because we don't want to face up to our fears that the world is changing, and how "we all want the same things- freedom, happiness, safety". 

The writing is deeply affecting, and looking at the world through our narrator's eyes is enlightening. I will be thinking about her and Silence Is A Sense for a long time to come. I give it my highest recommendation.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Layla AlAmmar's book tour.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Two Great Women's History Month Reads

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

March is Women’s History Month, and if you prefer novels to reading nonfiction historical accounts about women, there are two newly published excellent books that will satisfy you.

While researching another novel about WWI, author Lauren Willig found letters from alumni of the all-female Smith College about their time in France during WWI. A group of young women were recruited to travel to France and provide aid to villagers whose homes and communities were damaged or destroyed by the Germans.

That research turned into her latest historical fiction, Band of Sisters. When Kate, a Smith College alumni, gets a letter from her former college friend Emmie asking her to join up with the alumni group going to France to aid villagers, she is intrigued. 

Kate was a scholarship student at Smith, and she stood out from most of the daughters of wealthy and influential families there. She was smart and worked hard, but she felt different from the other young ladies of privilege.

She and Emmie were best friends, until something happened that ended that. Still, Kate is looking for more in her life than teaching at a girls’ school, and she agrees to join Emmie in this endeavor.

When the young women arrive in France, their situation is not what they expected. The chateau that is their headquarters and living quarters is dilapidated, and they are expected to do things like drive and repair huge supply trucks, and purchase livestock, things they were not trained to do. The woman put in charge of purchasing chickens bought roosters instead, a mistake that led to no eggs and endless teasing.

The women were shocked at the conditions of the villages they were to help. They weren’t just there to throw Christmas parties and help them replant crops, they had to rebuild entire villages. They aided in medical care, (there was a female Smith alumna doctor with them), and had to figure out how allocate the little supplies they had to to do the most good.

The characters in Band of Sisters feel so real because Willig based them on real women- the writers of all the many letters she read, written by the actual alumni who went to France. These women rose to the occasion, and because the eyes of the world were upon them, failure would be a major setback for women just at the time that women’s suffrage was taking hold in the United States. 

Band of Sisters is one of the best historical novels I have read because it is based in reality. The writing pulls you in immediately, and you care about these young ladies who leave the safety of their comfortable homes to come to the aid of people they don’t know. Lauren Willig drops you right into the middle of a war zone with these intrepid young women. 

Kristin Hannah’s newest novel, The Four Winds takes the reader from the Texas panhandle in the 1920s to the agricultural fields of California in the 1930s during the Great Depression. 

Elsa is a lonely young woman from a wealthy family in Texas. When she finds herself pregnant by the son of Italian immigrants, her family disowns her and she is reluctantly taken in by her new husband’s parents, who had hoped that their son would be able to leave their family farm and go to college.

Elsa is accepted by her husband’s family, and she grows to love them and the farm. She now has a teenage daughter who is openly hostile to her, and a husband who is growing increasingly distant and unhappy.

When the dust storms roll across Texas and Oklahoma, devastating the farm, and the Great Depression destroys the economy, Elsa is forced to take her two children and flee to California, where they have been told there is work for them picking crops.

The reality of the situation is very different. There are many thousands of refugees like Elsa who are forced to live in tents, and if they can get work on farms, the pay is so little that they can barely subsist.

Although Hannah’s story is set during the 1930s, it resonates with what has been happening today. The refugee situation at the border, the growing inequality between workers and owners, the despair of people in difficult situations. Like Jess Walters’ novel, The Cold Millions, the story of the growing workers' movement is brought to life. The Four Winds puts the reader right in Elsa’s shoes.

Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig- A+

Published by William Morrow

Hardcover, $27.99, 538 pages

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah- A+

Published by St. Martin’s Press

Hardcover, $28.99, 464 pages

Friday, March 12, 2021

Friday 5ive- March 12, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention this week. This week marks the one year anniversary of the pandemic lockdown here in NYC. Last year on March 12th when Dorothy and I locked the door to the Book Cellar, the nonprofit used bookstore where we work that supports New York Public Library branches, we had no idea what would happen in a year. But hope is on the horizon if we stay vigilant, and everyone gets their vaccine when it's their turn.

1)  St. Patrick's Day is next week, and we always celebrate with corned beef and cabbage, a favorite meal of my sons. I decorated a bookshelf with some green books and books by favorite Irish authors.  It makes a good March Zoom background.

2)  I received my 8th medal for my virtual Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) ride on the Conqueror Challenge. It was a 481 mile ride from France to Spain, and the postcards highlighting sights of interest I received for this one were fascinating. Next up is a 750 mile Boston to Bar Harbor ride, a three month ride.

3)  It was a week of Zooms. We had a family Zoom for my mother-in-law's birthday, filled with lovely flowers, festive balloons, pretty cupcakes decorated like flowers, and gifts galore for the beautiful birthday lady. It was nice to have so many grandchildren participate.
After the birthday Zoom, we had a family wine Zoom with a very informative and entertaining person from Stag's Leap Cellars Winery in Napa Valley. Terri gave us background on the winery and the wines we tasted were excellent, a good time was had by all. The Fay Cabernet Sauvignon was my favorite.
On Monday, the Facebook group Peloton Moms Book Group hosted a talk with author Kristin Hannah, whose new novel, The Four Winds, which debuted at number one on the New York Times fiction bestseller list. The book tells the story of Elsa, who with her teenage daughter Loreda and young son leave their family farm on the Texas panhandle when the Dust Bowl storms and Great Depression decimate their farm. They flee to California only to fight horrible living conditions, discrimination, and farm owners who take advantage of the refugees, to try and make a life. It was a fascinating discussion, and we learned all about Hannah's research and writing process. My full review of her best book yet publishes Sunday in the Auburn Citizen and online at auburnpub.com. (Hint- I gave it a rave review.)
Our wines from Stag's Leap Cellars

4) We watched a terrifc documentary on Apple TV+ this week- Boys State. The documentary, about a program where 1,100 young men from all over Texas come together to create a democratic government of their own. They split into two groups- Nationalists and Federalists, decide on party platforms, and elect representatives. The film focuses heavily on the race for Governor, and the candidates they highlight are such interesting young men, after watching this documentary you know that you will be seeing them as future leaders. The film won the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize. 

5) On the book front, I finished Kate Quinn's WWII novel The Rose Code a 626 page book that flew by.  Three women who work at Bletchley Park outside London are trying to break the German communication codes and one stumbles upon a spy. It continues Quinn's WWII brilliant novels (The Alice Network and The Huntress) about women who did more than their part for the war effort.

Speaking of WWII, I started Jacqueline Winspear's newest Maisie Dobbs novel, The Consequences of Fear. We're up to 1941 in this popular mystery series, and private investigator and psychologist Maisie is now assisting the SOE (Special Operations Executive) British spy agency by assessing candidates psychological state of mind before they can work with the French resistance. Maisie and her able investigator Billy are also working on the case of young boy who witnessed a murder. I'm halfway through and as always, it's great to visit Maisie's world and the friends and family we've come to know over 16 novels. It publishes on March 23rd.

Stay safe and socially distant, wash your hands, wear a mask, and get a vaccine when it's your turn. We're getting so close to beating this, I can feel it. I hope you do too.

This post was shared with The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader's Weekend Cooking posts.