Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Review: Ladies' Lunch by Lore Segal

Interconnected short stories are my favorite way to read short stories and as a lady of a certain age who would like to lunch (sometimes, if I'm feeling social enough), how could I resist this collection by Lore Segal?

Ruth, Bridget, Farrah, Lotte, Bessie are Manhattanites in their eighties and nineties. They've been friends for decades, lunching together as they share their lives' trajectories. The stories tell of their current situations, including the move to assisted living of one of their number, aging, loss, COVID, frustration with aging children, and more but also of their long history together, the ups and downs of longstanding friendships, and the perspective and wisdom that comes from a long life. There are a few stories that may or may not be connected to the bulk of the other stories but they too tackle the transitions of life.

The stories are both bittersweet and filled with life, even if the acknowledgement that life is much shorter at the ladies' end is never far away. There is humor and sadness here but what these stories capture is the beautiful mundanity of life, the value and support of friendship, and importance of living every day. Segal's characters live forward; they look back but they always move onward. The stories are not all equally interesting and some can feel a little muddled at times. The elderly main characters are unique and unusual in literature. Over all, this was a strong and readable collection centered on an underrepresented demographic.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Review: The Curious Secrets of Yesterday by Namrata Patel

We've all felt the weight of expectations. Some expectations are heavier than others. Some are very small things while others affect your whole life and its trajectory. Some people rise to meet expectations. Some revolt against them. And some chafe against them quietly, wondering how to live life on their own terms no matter what the expectations on them are. This latter group of people includes the main character of Namrata Patel's newest novel, The Curious Secrets of Yesterday.

Tulsi Gupta is in her thirties. She lives with her mother and grandmother in Salem, Massachusetts. The Gupta women run a spice shop and practice Ayurvedic healing, tracing their family lineage back to the Vedic Hindu Goddess of Earth, Dharti. Tulsi's grandmother Aruna started the shop and her mother, Devi, has taken over most of the running of it. Both older women are waiting for Tulsi to take her final test as a spice healer and assume her rightful place, taking over from her mother. The problem is that Tulsi doesn't want to be a spice healer. She wants no part of this family tradition and has no idea how to tell her mother and grandmother the truth: that she feels stuck and wants out, out of the store and out of Salem. So instead of admitting these feelings, Tulsi maintains the status quo, quietly unhappy. But change comes to people's lives whether they seek it out or not and change is barreling down on Tulsi. She uncovers evidence of a major family secret, the new cafe next door has a very attractive chef/owner, and an anonymously run social media account first catapults the Gupta's store into the spotlight and then notoriety. All of these things pile up, forcing Tulsi, Devi, and Aruna into some hard reckonings.

The cover of this book suggests to the reader that this is going to be a lighthearted story, and in many ways it is, but it also tackles some difficult topics like abandonment, lies, and devastating family secrets. Tulsi, as a character, struggles to find herself because of her instinct to be a caretaker and a mediator, to defend her mother and grandmother, even when their choices are indefensible and have caused her pain or to miss out on things in her life. It is painful to watch Tulsi stifle her own needs and wants for so long and the constant repetition of her unhappiness with the expectations placed on her in the first part of the book does wear thin. (I'm obviously not as patient and understanding as Tulsi.) The beginning of the story also contains many explanations of Ayurvedic healing, perhaps trying to make the concept more accessible to an unfamiliar audience but it felt much more than necessary and slowed the pace of the story down. As the story progressed, this became less of an issue though as it focused more on the characters and the plot. The romance subplot stays fairly lowkey centering Tulsi finding herself as the focus of the story so don't go into this thinking it is a romance. It's not. There might be a touch too many plot threads here: a family curse dooming the Gupta women to single motherhood, Ayurvedic healing and the role of spices in it, complex family dynamics, a budding romance, the mystery of Tulsi's father, the mystery of grandmother Aruna's rift with a former friend, the rewards and perils of social media, and a coming of age to name a few. The novel needed to either focus tighter, eliminating some of these, or go into more depth to make them all equally relevant to the story. Even with the busy-ness of the plot though, ultimately this was a warm and pleasing novel that makes for a different and generally likable, happily ever after summer read.

Thanks to Amazon for sending me this book to review.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

What Would Jane Austen Do by
Linda Corbett.
The book is being released by One More Chapter on June 18, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: When Maddy Shaw is told her Dear Jane column has been cancelled she has no choice but to look outside of London’s rental market. That is until she’s left an idyllic country home by the black sheep of the family, long-not-so-lost Cousin Nigel.

But of course there’s a stipulation… and not only is Maddy made chair of the committee for the annual village literary festival, she also has to put up with bestselling crime author –and romance sceptic – Cameron Massey as her new neighbour.

When Maddy challenges Cameron to write romantic fiction, which he claims is so easy to do, sparks fly both on and off the page…

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Review: Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall

We see women's rights debated daily in the news. (How has this even become a debate?) We see people working hard to remove rights from fully half of the population, in accordance with nothing so much as their paternalistic ideas of what is right for everyone. (It goes without saying that they are incorrect on every front on which they might argue.) Any decision about pregnancy, abortion, adoption, or fertility treatments should be made by the woman whose body is the one in question. I trust her to make the best decision for herself and her future life. Anyone who doesn't should examine why not a little (a lot) closer. As we step backwards, closer to a time when women were not allowed to choose for themselves, a time that feels awfully, terribly like the present right about now, there will be more and more stories, fiction and non, reminding us of what we risk when we lose personal choice. Heather Marshall's novel Looking for Jane is one of these. It's a triple stranded narrative set in Canada in 2017, 1971, and 1980, about secrets, choices, women's bodily autonomy, and the brave network of women determined to ensure the government treated women as fully adult human beings capable of making their own decisions about their health and lives.

Angela Creighton, who manages an antiques and used bookstore, finds an unopened letter which was misdelivered to the shop almost 10 years prior. After reading the life-changing message inside it, she decides to find the intended recipient, partly as a way to distract her from the fertility problems she and her wife are currently experiencing. As Angela searches for the letter's addressee, she learns about the Jane Network, an underground network of women, including abortion providers, who offered safe procedures for women before abortion was legalized in Canada in 1988.

In addition to the search for the intended recipient of the letter, two other stories weave through the narrative as well. The first follows Dr. Evelyn Taylor, who, as a teenager, was sent to a Catholic maternity home for unwed mothers and forced to give up her baby. Having never recovered from the trauma of this, she trained as an ob/gyn and joins the Jane Network in order to offer other women more choice than she was ever given. The second is that of Nancy Mitchell, a woman raised in a family crippled by silence and secrets. When she finds herself pregnant two decades after Dr. Taylor's experiences, her choices are still very limited but she finds the Jane Network and Dr. Taylor. She joins the Janes herself to help the women who find themselves in the same situation she herself was in, always keeping her involvement a secret, even from those she loves the most.

The stories of these three women come together in ways that are perhaps not very surprising (except in one case) but Marshall's story of life for women without unfettered access to health care is increasingly important as our sovereignty over ourselves and our reproductive care is slashed, hacked, eroded and legislated against by a faux moralistic minority. Although the Jane Network and abortion are a significant piece of the books, Marshall also includes adoption and fertility struggles as they are also important choices for women to have. Marshall captures the shame of a society that judges women (and only women) for pregnancies out of wedlock. She touches on the great harm, both immediate and lifelong, done to young women without their consent by organizations purporting to be in their best interests. She brings the whispers out into the open, into the light of day. The story is engaging and fast paced and while the end might be a little tidy, it is a good and pertinent read.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

The God of the Woods by
Liz Moore.
The book is being released by Riverhead Books on July 2, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: When a teenager vanishes from her Adirondack summer camp, two worlds collide Early morning, August 1975: a camp counselor discovers an empty bunk. Its occupant, Barbara Van Laar, has gone missing. Barbara isn't just any thirteen-year-old: she's the daughter of the family that owns the summer camp and employs most of the region's residents. And this isn't the first time a Van Laar child has disappeared. Barbara's older brother similarly vanished fourteen years ago, never to be found.

As a panicked search begins, a thrilling drama unfolds. Chasing down the layered secrets of the Van Laar family and the blue-collar community working in its shadow, Moore's multi-threaded story invites readers into a rich and gripping dynasty of secrets and second chances. It is Liz Moore's most ambitious and wide-reaching novel yet.

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