The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

Dear Fellow Reader,

Wow! It has been hot. And there hasn’t been a drop of rain in a long time. Of course, this is the summer that I finally decided that I should do more in the yard. So, I planted and now I am watering and hoping.

(NOTE: I apparently wrote this and forgot to post it. It is no longer summer or warm or dry.)

This week’s book is historical fiction. It is the book for my library book club for last June. And I missed the meeting. There is something about reading the book and then missing the meeting which is a drag but it can’t be helped.

The Secrets We Kept follows two storylines that intersect. I would view the intersection of the storylines as tenuous at best. One of the storylines is about Boris Pasternak’s mistress, Olga. Boris Pasternak was a poet in Russia. The Russian government supported the arts as long as the artists behaved. It seems that the government had been told that the epic work of Boris Pasternak’s life, Dr. Zhivago, showed the government in a poor light. Olga was brought in for questioning in the middle of the night and kept in jail for several weeks. She had no idea if she would be released. They tried to get her to write a confession that the book was anti-government.

Then the book shifts to the US and office for the CIA. Irina is a Russian immigrant who is recruited to work in the typing pool. But she is actually groomed to become an operative. The story tells us about Irina’s life and that of the other women in the typing pool and the secrets they keep. The women learn not to think about what they are typing and which men to stay away from in the office. One day, the dazzling Sally Forrester arrives in the office and the women are quite sure she is not really a receptionist. Sally is an operative who had been brought in to advance Irina’s training.

While it is interesting, the point of the book does not arrive until about 2/3 of the way though the book. When talking to someone a week or so after reading the book, I didn’t remember how the two sections intersected. I would not say that the book builds up to the intersection. By then, you are much more caught up in the personalities of the characters and not what the US Government is trying to do. That is just part of an assignment that does involve the book Dr. Zhivago, but I thought it fell a bit flat.

This book was a Reese Witherspoon book club choice. That means that people were perhaps more enthralled with it than I was. While I read and finished the book, I wondered why some parts were in the book. There is a relationship between Irina and Sally. They were apparently not real people so how did that help the story? Sally’s work left more questions than it answered, and it had nothing to do with the overall plot. Why was it there? I did learn much more about Dr. Zhivago than I ever knew before and that was interesting.

So, this is a lukewarm recommendation.

Thanks for reading!

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Just Like Magic by Sarah Hogle

Dear Fellow Readers,

This image truly relates to the book I am reviewing today. I do, on occasion, read paranormal cozy mysteries. They are light and have some humor and I find they are great when I want something to read that takes very little thought. They are like TV. They entertain without taking up any head space. One such series that I enjoy are the Angie Fox Southern Ghost Hunter Mysteries. I have read them all.

Okay, I don’t normally want to admit that I read those books but I shouldn’t feel that way. We all need something light and easy occasionally.

As you may have guessed, today’s book involves a bit of paranormal activity. (Although any paranormal activity means there is a fair amount of it.)

Bettie Hughes comes from money. She made money and lost money. She is currently broke and living in someone else’s house. (She is basically squatting in a house of a dead woman.) She is obsessed with her online image. She posts frequently giving the illusion that she is doing great. But she really isn’t and particularly because Christmas is coming up fast and she will have to go see her family. She absolutely does not what them to see that she had met the expectations that some of them have for her – that she is broke. She made terrible business decisions and lost.

One night during a pity party that she is throwing for herself, she plays a vinyl record of “All I Want for Christmas is You”, backwards and her very own Christmas spirit arrives. Hall is her Christmas spirit and he appears to be just what she needs. Although his ability to use his magic correctly seems a bit off at first.

She decides that the perfect plan is to take Hall home with her for Christmas and pass him off as her fiancé. He can provide her with all she needs to show off to her family. So they arrive home and no one pays any attention to them. So she makes Hall take her back in time and start over with an even bigger splash. And then that still doesn’t do it so back in time the go again and this time their entrance gathers the attention that she wants.

In the meantime, Hall just loves Christmas. He wants to be able to do all the things that humans do to celebrate the holidays. There is suddenly a skating rink so they can all go skating. He bakes with Bettie’s mother. He redecorates the house daily with a different theme. He tries to show Bettie all the wonderful things she has right at her fingertips.

She is resistant. She has grudges that she wants to clear up. She wants to hurt those who hurt her. But he finally gets her to see that she doesn’t really accomplish anything by inflicting damage to others.

This book is about redemption and the power of love although it is easy to lose that in some of the ways that Bettie acts.

I have to admit that I was not wild about this book at first. I kept reading, so it wasn’t horrible, but I didn’t enjoy the first part of the book. But then I did get caught up in the story and it did not end exactly as I would have expected. So, I would recommend this book but I would say that you need to push through to get to where it gets better.

Thanks for reading!

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Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

Dear Fellow Reader,

An hour ago, I was in the basement waiting for the National Weather Service to cancel the tornado warning that it issued for my area. And now I sit here, and the sun is shining. I can see a bit of blue sky between the white clouds. You just never know what the day will bring.

I read a book by Elizabeth Strout for a book club a couple of years ago. It was My Name is Lucy Barton and I don’t remember much about it but it was dark. I know there were scenes between a mother and daughter in a hospital that truly showed a terrible relationship.

So, now I have read Lucy by the Sea. I think that Elizabeth Strout’s writing style is very different. It is brief and to the point. The chapters contain many sections with each section running either from a couple of sentences to a few paragraphs. The breaks allow for a change in thought or movement of the plot. While at first, I wasn’t too wild about it, I think it is very effective. The breaks allow Lucy to allude that something is going to happen in the future and then she goes back to the present or the past. It is not confusing at all as to where you are in the story even with the breaks.

Lucy is living in New York as she always has. She is still in mourning for her husband, Dwight, who died about a year ago. She loved him with all her heart. She has an ex-husband that she is friendly with and since Dwight’s death, she will occasionally travel with him. Their relationship is platonic but they have a long history. Her ex-husband is a parasitologist. He sees that there is going to be a huge change coming and he tells Lucy and his daughters that they need to leave the city. One daughter and her husband take his advice and move into the husband’s parent’s home while the parents are wintering in Florida. William tells Lucy to get ready that he is going to pick her up and they are leaving the city. Lucy doesn’t really understand what William is talking about but he is so insistent that she packs a bag and leaves with him for Maine.

And then the pandemic hits and some of their friends die.

The story is about that time. They are in Maine and they are not welcomed in Maine. They live in relative isolation out on a cliff and spend time taking separate walks around the area. It is the story of what Lucy expects to be a few weeks in Maine then turns into a much longer time. We learn more about the relationship between Lucy and William (and what went wrong) and how their relationship with their daughters. Lucy’s relationship with her dead mother also plays a big part in the story.

The reader learns the story of Lucy with all its warts and beauty.

If you are ready to read about the pandemic and its effects, then this is an interesting read. Is it too soon after the pandemic? Depends on the person, I guess. I truly enjoyed the writing style and the very human characters. I think you should read it.

Thanks for reading!

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Six Feet Deep Dish by Mindy Quigley

Dear Fellow Reader,

  Isn’t there something appealing about reading a book that takes place in a locale that you are familiar with? I find that it perks my interest. I want to see if I have been in the exact location as the characters and if I can “see” all the places that they talk about.

In Six Feet Deep by Mindy Quigly, we are transported to Geneva Bay, WI. Which, I am sure is based in Lake Geneva, WI. Even the main character’s name, Delilah O’Leary makes me think of the Irish Woods area just east of Lake Geneva, where there was a conclave of Irish immigrants.

Instead of the day being one of the big days in Delilah’s life, it goes from frustrating to disastrous. It is the day of the soft opening of Delila’s new pizza restaurant. Delilah can open this dream of hers with the financial help of her rich fiancé. The sign for the new restaurant arrives and they all go out to watch it being put in place. Delia has reluctantly left the sign as the responsibility of her fiancé. She has a hard time letting go of responsibilities, but she is sure he will get this right. He understands how important it is, right? When the sign is wrong, Delilah loses it with her fiancé. He then walks out on her. She can’t stop to evaluate or work on her relationship right then as she has a restaurant full of people about to arrive. She needs to have her best foot forward. She thinks everything is set until she finds her beloved aunt holding a gun over a dead body. Needless to say, the opening was cut short. When the police detective arrives and the scene and closes her new and newly unfinancially sound restaurant, Delilah has more worries than she can count. But the biggest problem is with her aunt. She is sure that her aunt didn’t kill anyone but how to prove it? And will Detective Calvin Capone be offended by her portrait of his famous relative in the restaurant?

Delilah has to find a murderer, untangle her relationship with her fiancé, (and find him for the police to question), and figure out what is going to happen to her dream.

This was a pleasant read. I enjoyed it. I am sure partially because of the location but the story was well-developed and moved along well. I would recommend it.

Thanks for reading!

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Book Banning

Dear Fellow Reader,

I have been reading articles for the last few months about the attempts in many locations to ban books. Not only ban books but also persecute librarians. (https://www.rawstory.com/watch-new-chattanooga-da-may-prosecute-librarians-for-contributing-to-the-delinquency-of-minors/) (https://thehill.com/changing-america/respect/diversity-inclusion/3592899-michigan-public-library-defunded-over-inclusion-of-lgbtq-materials/)

Oh my. I am not sure where to start with this except to say that this is not Nazi Germany or a Communist country. I have no idea what rock these people have crawled out from under, but they need to wake up in the sunlight or crawl back under.

Book Banning and going after librarians is truly scary stuff. This is people wanting to control your thoughts and the information that you can obtain.

I find it truly horrifying. And if you don’t, then you need to pay more attention.

With that in mind, I have decided to educate myself about some of the books that people are talking and complaining about.

If you have never looked at the American Library Association’s list of books that people have tried to ban, you might be shocked. I am a volunteer book group coordinator for a group. I decided that in September (Banned Book Week is in September) that we would read a book that people have attempted to ban. I gave the ladies 5 choices of books. I was in a group that discussed the choices one day and there was general surprise that these titles were on the list. The following are the choices I gave them:

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Are you surprised by these titles? Then let this be your first wake up call as to what is going on in this country. Books that most consider classics and have won numerous literary awards are being objected to – in some cases for ONE PARAGRAPH in the book. (By the way, the voting is almost complete for my group, and it looks like the choice will be The Bluest Eye. (This book was brought up as part of the campaign for Governor of Virginia last year.)

But today, I would like to talk about a more contemporary book that is currently on top of the banned or attempted to be banned book list.

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe.

Please note:  Maia uses alternate pronouns and I am going to respect that. I may not get it right because I am learning but she deserves this respect. Maia prefers ey, em, and eir for she, her, possessive her.

Part of me is not sure where to start. My first thought is that the people objecting to this book have not read it. I can’t believe that you could read this book and not have sympathy as your overriding feeling. I want to reach out and help em more than anything else, but I I want to stand by em side and support em.   

The book is Maia’s story of not feeling right in em body. It isn’t that ey is gay or ey is transgender. Ey doesn’t truly feel good about body. Ey just wants to be non-gender. Ey doesn’t want to be sexually active with anyone. Ey doesn’t like eir breasts, ey doesn’t like eir period, ey doesn’t like anything about eir sexuality. And she realizes that this is not the norm and is trying to find em way.

And I feel sorry for eir constant uncomfortable feelings. It is certainly not written in any titillating way. This stupid STUPID concept of “grooming” could not possibly be applied to this book. Ey doesn’t make it seem appealing. Ey feels bad about how ey is and ey wishes ey wasn’t that way. Ey is willing to be supportive of others who feel this way but ey is scared to volunteer to help because ey doesn’t know how people will react.

Why read this book? This book gives insight into how another person thinks. As with all fiction, it shows us that others think differently, and we can therefore grow because we know another viewpoint. It isn’t whether you agree or disagree with em, it is that you understand that there is this viewpoint.

I didn’t say at the beginning of this review that Gender Queer is a graphic novel. It is easy to read and well done. The graphics enhance eir telling of the story; they are not a distraction.

And no, it was not easy to write this review using Miai’s preferred pronouns. I am not sure I got it right all the time, but I respect em as a person, and it was what I can do to show that respect. As you may guess, my word processing editor has gone a bit mad with this. There are red marks all over the page.

I urge you to think for yourself and read the books on the Banned Book List. See if you think that they deserve this treatment. https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10

Thanks for reading!

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