The Bohemians by Jasmin Darznik

Dear Fellow Reader,

Dorothea Lange

We have been on a ride through genres lately right? We’ve hit non-fiction, Christian self-help, and romance in the last three weeks.

This week we are venturing into historical fiction. Yes, that genre that just keeps coming. Most of my trouble with historical fiction is that so much of what I have read centers around WWI, the time between the wars, or WWII. I am a bit tired of that time frame.

So let’s pick a different time. How about 1918 in San Francisco? That’s different, right? And interestingly, this author’s last book was about 1950s Tehran. The one thing I would say was the  common element in her books is that she finds fascinating woman characters to write about. In her earlier book, she wrote about Forugh Farrokhzad, an Iranian poet. (My review of Song of a Captive Bird can be found at https://cecooney.com/2018/04/25/song-of-a-captive-bird-by-jasmin-darznik/)

In The Bohemians, the central character is Dorothea Lange. While you may not recognize the name immediately, you are familiar with some of her work. As usual, when I started reading the book, I didn’t remember what about the book had intrigued me. I had liked Ms Darznik’s last book (I remembered it., which is saying something.) and so I accepted this book. (I received the book in advance of publication in exchange for an unbiased review.)

Dorothea (Dorrie) arrives in San Francisco in 1918 at the age of 23. The first thing that happens is that she loses all her money to a pick pocketer. She ends up spending her first night on the beach because she didn’t have money to get a place to sleep. The next morning, she hocks her most prized possession, her camera. And then she meets Carolyn Lee. Carolyn is half Chinese and is kind to Dorrie. She takes her to an inexpensive restaurant and then shows Dorrie her apartment in Monkey Block. (Monkey Block was an area in San Francisco where many artists lived. It was the bohemian heart of the city.)

Carolyn is quite sure that someone that lives in or is around Monkey Block can help Dorrie. With Carolyn’s help, Dorrie meets many of the famous and infamous artists in San Francisco. Dorrie and Carolyn form a close friendship that helps both of them.

The politics of the time play into the story. In that era in San Francisco, the Chinese were looked down upon and treated very poorly. They were not allowed to hold good jobs or live outside of certain districts. (Timely reading with our current issue with Asian hate crimes) Since Dorrie’s close friend was Chinese American, Dorrie sees the prejudice experienced by her close friend.

Dorrie has also suffered from polio as a child and as a result, has a limp. That influences how she views herself thought her life.

One of the people Dorrie meets is Maynard Dixon, the painter. Carolyn warns Dorrie to avoid him that he is trouble. Dorrie finds out quickly that he is fascinating, and that Carolyn was right. Dorrie also becomes friends with Ansel Adams.

Dorothea Lange’s famous photo

Dorothea Lange is known for her photojournalism, but she started out as a portrait photographer and that is how she made a living most of the time in San Francisco. It was interesting to read how she started and how her life changed.

  I enjoyed the book and am happy to suggest that you read it. The people and the times are interesting. Dorthea Lange was an exceptional woman. She has been brought to life in an interesting fashion in the book.

My only quibble with the book is at the very end. The last chapter skips ahead 10 years. Dorrie suddenly has major life changes that are given without much information. I understand why it was done but at the same time, it was a sudden shift. I did like the Epilogue and the Author’s Notes and the Historical Notes. Don’t skip them. There is interesting information there. The Historical Notes section gives a historical synopsis of the famous main characters.

Maynard Dix Painting “Thunder Over Ship Rock

Thanks for reading!

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Duchess if You Dare by Anabelle Bryant

Dear Fellow Reader,

A new week means a new book review. I have decided that I will never catch up with my list of books to read. There are more all the time and I sometimes feel like I am drowning in choices. I’ve fallen behind in book club and just see more and more books I want to read.

How terrific is that? How fortunate we are to have libraries full of books and so many new books coming out each week.

This week’s review is a new book by Annabelle Bryant. It is in a genre that if you asked me, I would say that I don’t generally read. But that might not be true.

We are on to Romance Fiction.

I saw that blink. What? You think you don’t read romance? I bet you do but you don’t realize it. Jane Austin and Charlotte Bronte wrote romance novels. Oh, those love stories.

I think that those of us who are a certain age think of Harlequin Romances as the source of all romance novels. There are still Harlequin Romances but there are many other publishers as well and many types of romance books. I think back to the days of Sweet Savage Fury and the shirtless hero on the cover with a busty wench being saved – even though she probably didn’t want to be – at first. I think the genre was referred to as “bodice rippers”.

But there are now Historical Romance, Erotic Romance, Fantasy Romance, Contemporary Romance, and even Romantic Suspense to name a few of the sub-genres. The romance novel comes in many flavors and is set of a variety of tastes. Romance novels sales exceed $1 BILLION every year, selling more than many other genres combined. That means that one-third of all mass market fiction books are romance novels.

Not only that but traditionally, romance novels sell better during bad economic times than other forms of entertainment. Why? Because they can be at a lower price point and provide more escape from hard times.

So three cheers for the Romance Genre.

Duchess If You Dare by Anabelle Bryant is almost what I would think of as a “traditional” romance novel. Scarlett Wynn is not your typical female in old London. She has had a hard life but has been taken in by a group of women (the Maidens of Mayhem) who have committed to help fight injustice. As part of her fight, Scarlet (Who is stunningly beautiful), has a dressmaker adapt her clothing to help her fight off bad guys and escape. One day when she goes to pick up her latest order from her seamstress, she finds the young lady missing. In asking around, she finds that the young woman was also working as a prostitute. She goes to the brothel to see what she can find out. While there, she encounters the Duke of Aylesford. (A breathtakingly handsome, rugged, muscular, man) They meet and are at once magnetically attracted to each other. Ambrose is not there for the brothel services but to see if he can also find a missing girl. His brother was the frequenter of the brothel and was concerned about the young lady that he liked to visit.

It might be possible at this point that you think that perhaps this is not the type of romance novel you read years ago. You are correct. It appears to me that there is more sex in the romance novels of today. Back in the olden days, there was illusion but not description. So, there is sex in this book because, well, the attraction was just so strong. A kiss was just so overpowering that they could not stop there.

This is a big, lusty book. There are fights and rescues. There is love and passion. There are the good guys and the bad guys. A fun read. If you read to escape this is a good way to escape without having to think much. And don’t we all need to escape occasionally? So, go enjoy a romance as they are written today.

Thanks for reading!

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Simple & Free by Jen Hatmaker

Dear Fellow Readers,

I know that most people think of January 1st as the day to make changes in their lives. During the pandemic, lots of people found the need to do some cleaning out and/or took the time to learn something new.

Some of us just existed. And that is fine too.

So far in this new year, I have been doing a lot of reading about eating and nutrition. It has been interesting and overwhelming. Funny, I haven’t read anything that tells me that I should eat steaks and butter. Why is that?

Seven years ago, Jen Hatmaker decided that she needed to make some changes. To accomplish this, she decided that for seven months during one year she would try to make changes in her families lives. She also had a group of friends that would support her during this time by either joining in or modifying the program for themselves.

The book about their experiences came out seven years ago. Now that time has passed, she is publishing an update of the first book with comments from where she is today.

“It is simply an imperfect social experiment to help us find God in an overcrowded, overindulged, overscheduled life. And it did.”

So, here is the thing. I really don’t know much about the face of the Southern Baptist Church. A more honest description would be that I don’t know much about Christian churches. If you didn’t catch this previously, I do not normally read “Christian books”. Why I decided to read this one is a bit of a mystery but there was something in the description that caught my attention. Okay, not that I got the book free for review (which I did) but I am behind in my reading so there had to be something there to catch my attention. Anyway…

The seven areas that are covered in the book are Food, Clothes, Possessions, Media, Waste, Spending, Stress. In the months that she tackles each topic, she picks seven things to keep and use but is prohibited more than those seven items. For example, during the Food month, she eats only chicken, eggs, whole-wheat bread, sweet potatoes, spinach, avocados, and apples. During the month about clothes, she picks 7 items of clothing that she will wear for the month.

I found the book interesting. It reaffirms a lot of my reading about our place in this world and how we should be better stewards of our surroundings. I felt that the tone of the book is friendly and easy to identify with. Okay, I did skip over some of the Bible lessons which seemed to get lengthier as the book went on.

I think one of the things that I liked is that she was learning while she was going. It is certainly easier to learn from someone who is just learning themselves and is enthusiastic than some of the dry books out of the subjects.

Yes, I would recommend this book. I would say that you should go in with your eyes open as to what the book is about. You may or may not be interested in the subject matter. I was interested in what she did and how it went.

Not being part of the Christian Church scene, I had never heard of Jen Hatmaker before. Also, she had a show on HGTV which must have been on after I cut the cord. She also indicates that she has had some problems with traditional Christianity prior to the first publishing of the book and in the intervening years. It is hinted that part of her problems with the Church come from her support of the LGBTQ community. I liked her writing and approach to the issues. Her openness improved the book in my estimation.

Thanks for reading.

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The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein

Dear Fellow Reader,

It is said that that line from an Emily Dickenson poem that is a hymn of praise for the human spirit’s capacity for hope. The bird comes and sings no matter what and we humans hope for a better day despite our problems.

And Spring seems to do that for us. We look out and see the snow just about gone and we start thinking about warmer weather and our chance to get outside. Despite the snow that then arrives, we still have that hope for Spring.

So, it is with thoughts of daffodils that I finished The Color of Law. It was probably a good thing that I was thinking of hopefulness because I certainly would not have gotten that from the book.

I am not a student of history. It is fairly embarrassing how little history I have retained over the years. While I would feel guilty about this in relation to some books, I do not feel bad this time.

Because The Color of Law is about the history that we don’t admit to. It is our shameful past that is there to show us what we have done.

“The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” is the subtitle for the book.

The Color of Law is about the laws and policies by the U. S. Government that held black and brown people down through the history of this country. I sat most of the time with my mouth open. I can’t believe the policies that existed – even in my lifetime.

Things I didn’t know

  1.  FHA loans were only for white people. (Until like the 1960s) There was not a mortgage underwriting program for black people.
  2. The GI Bill was not given equitably for all soldiers – black returning soldiers did not get money for college – only for trade schools. And they couldn’t buy a house.
  3. Unions would not allow black members in any of the higher paying jobs.
  4. The pervasive U. S. Government attitude was that black people could not live with white people. That property values would be damaged. In fact, when there was a “white flight”, the property values were escalated because slumlords went in and bought the property for re-sale at higher prices to rip off the black people.

There are many other things but these stood out to me.

All of this history is hidden. You don’t see it in history books and it is not discussed. I would argue that unless we admit to this historical racism that we can not move away from it. History books don’t even necessarily say that slavery was bad.

I urge you to take the time to read this book. I will tell you that I only read 5 – 10 pages a day because I was so shocked by what I read. I would never have dreamed that people in power would enact policies like the ones outlined in this book. In discussing this with a friend, the comment was made that we think black people should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” but we took the bootstraps away.

Also, it is an interesting time to be reading this book when voter suppression measures are working their way through so many state legislatures right now.

It is not an easy read. It is tough to recognize the damage that has been done but it is necessary. If hidden, our past will always haunt us.

I have hope that we can recognize our issues and work to resolve them. Please take the time to read this book.

Thanks for reading!

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Pianos and Flowers: Brief Encounter of the Romantic Kind by Alexander McCall Smith

Dear Fellow Reader,

Do you read any of the series by Alexander McCall Smith? He has a very popular mystery series, The #1 Ladies Detective Agency. I have never been a fan of those for some reason. I have enjoyed the Isabel Dalhousie books and for a while, I liked the 44 Scotland Street books. And those series barely scratch the surface of the books he has published. Phew!

I happened to notice recently that he had a book come out in January. I went on to my library site and reserved a copy right away. While I have found his books a bit uneven, I still always have hope that I will love the next one I pick up. When I read the introduction, I had great hope for this new book.

Pianos and Flowers is the name of the new book. It seems that Alexander McCall Smith was asked by The Sunday Times to write some short stories for the paper. To accomplish this, he requested that the newspaper send him some old photographs. He then took the photographs and made-up stories to go with the photos. The book is comprised of 14 stories based on the photos. (Yes, the photos are included.)

I was excited when I read about the book. I thought it sounded like it would be fun. I really like the idea. It sounds challenging and entertaining. The book is fairly short;the fourteen stories are covered in 179 pages. The first few stories are the longest. And I enjoyed those first few.

But overall, I was disappointed. I do wonder if part of the problem is cultural. That maybe his British stories just didn’t have the appeal here. I truly wanted to like it but found myself just racing to finish and not in a good way.

This is a book that you might feel differently about than I did. I think it holds such creative promise. I also like that so many of Alexander McCall Smith’s books are serialized in the paper before they become books. I think it makes me think of Charles Dickens and I wish that we had that in our newspapers here. As much as I want to tell you to hurry out and get this book, I think you can read the rest of your TBR (to be read) pile first.

Thanks for reading.

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