The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle by Jennifer Ryan

Historical fiction is a literary genre in which the plot takes place in a setting related to the past events, but is fictional…

An essential element of historical fiction is that it is set in the past and pays attention to the manners, social conditions, and other details of the depicted period.[1] Authors also frequently choose to explore notable historical figures in these settings, allowing readers to better understand how these individuals might have responded to their environments…”

Wikipedia

I selected this week’s book with my eyes open. I read the description and thought it sounded interesting even though it was yet another historical fiction book. I am truly at the point where I would be happy never to read yet another historical fiction book based during the Second World War. There would need to be a good hook to get me to read another. ( I think I have said this before and look how that turned out.)

And this book sounded interesting enough for me to want to read it. I was given a copy in exchange for my unbiased review.

The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle starts during the London Blitz. Cressida Westcott loses her design studio and her home all one night of bombing. She is left with nothing. The only option she can see is to return to her ancestral home and hope that she can be taken in by her niece and nephew. She and her older brother did not get along and she has not been home in years. Her brother is dead and she hopes she can stay there while she tries to find a new place to live and work.

Cressida is famous in the world of fashion design. Her studio was quite an accomplishment for a woman in those times. She never married and she worked hard all the time. She arrives at her old country home with a coat over her nightdress. That is all she has with her. Her niece and nephew welcome her to their home.

Cressida’s niece, Violet, feels that her only purpose in life is to marry well. She wants to marry an aristocrat and settle down. She doesn’t really have any ambition beyond that. She attends some of the Village functions but is never really any help to anyone.

Hugh is Cressida’s nephew. He and his father did not get along but he is trying to take on the role that his father played in the town and carry out the directions that he his father left. He is a reluctant landlord. He did not like his father very much but doesn’t see that he can break with his Father’s ways.

Grace Carlisle is the vicar’s daughter. She selflessly gives to the people of the parish. She runs most of the events and visits the sick. Her father was devastated by the death of his wife and Grace has stepped in to fill the void. She is engaged to be married and the Vicar goes to the attic to find Grace’s mother’s wedding dress. He does find it but it has moth damage in several parts of the dress.

Grace takes the dress to the parish sewing circle to see if they have ideas on how she can fix the dress. The night she brings the dress, Cressida comes to the sewing circle for the first time. In looking over the dress, the women start discussing that the wartime brides in England cannot get wedding dresses or even white dresses. The women start thinking of ways that they can help by fixing up dresses and sharing them among the brides.

The book centers on Cressida, Violet, and Grace and the changes that they go through over the course of the book. Cressida encourages the women in the sewing circle to be independent and is there to help Grace and Violet when they are in doubt. I liked the way the story progressed and the character development. The story moved along well and held my interest. The characters are believable and interesting. I recommend it.

By the way, Jennifer Ryan also wrote The Chilbury Ladies Choir, which I have read and enjoyed.

Thanks for reading.

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The Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson             

Dear Fellow Reader,

I’m looking at a sunny day outside my window but at the same time, my hands are so cold. I am thinking warmth, but the weather isn’t cooperating. I suppose the fact that the grass is brown instead of green is a tell-tale sign that we are not into Spring the way I want us to be. The snow we received the other day was probably another sign but I’m not going to think about that.

I did cheat, which hasn’t helped. I took a week’s vacation. I was warm and in the sun for a week. I have found that I seem to need a break during the winter. I need to get somewhere and feel the warm sun and see color rather than just brown, grey, and white.

Going on vacation does mean that was able to read a lot. I know some might like adventures on vacation. I love warmth and books. I use vacations to make progress on my Goodreads goal for the year. I like having the accountability that Goodreads allows by having a set reading goal for the year. Although I will say that I wonder how many more books I can read than I have been reading. Oh, well, I’ll find out.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was published a few years ago. I had heard of it but had never read it. Then I was given an ARC of the sequel, The Book Woman’s Daughter. (You can probably say it with me – I was given an advance copy for my unbiased review.) The first thing I did was go to the library and take out a copy of the first book so that I could read it before I started the sequel. I downloaded the audiobook from the library. I did listen to the first hour or so while I was driving. But here is my issue – and I realize it is my issue – I don’t listen to audiobooks because I don’t know when I could take the time to listen to them. Now, I understand that many listen while they are doing other things like cleaning or gardening. That would involve me making a change from listening to music and I just don’t seem to make that change. So, and you might have guessed it, the book went back to the library before I could finish it.

So, I did what I constantly preach against. I read the sequel without reading the original book. I am not sure if I had absorbed enough from the first book to have an idea of what was going on when I read the second book but I was okay reading the second book without finishing the first book.

The Book Woman’s Daughter tells the story of Honey Lovett. As the book opens, Honey is 16 years old and is living with her parents. But also as the book opens, Honey’s parents are being arrested and imprisoned for miscegenation which is a charge leveled against those who marry outside of their race. Generally, these laws were in the south and applied to a white person marrying a black person. But in Kentucky, there was a family (they moved to Kentucky from France.) that had the blood disorder, methemoglobinemia, which causes the appearance of blue skin. In the uneducated hills of Kentucky, unusual was not good. The ‘blue people” were seen as bad – even so far as to be called the devil. In the case of Honey’s parents, Honey’s mother was blue. Honey also had blue hands and feet. She would wear gloves to hide her condition.

Because Honey was only 16 when her parents went to jail, she was a minor and the state wanted to take her and send her to a work camp until she was 21. Honey’s parents knew this could happen and therefore they tried to send her away before the sheriff came to pick them up. Honey had a hard time leaving them and didn’t hide the way she should have. She was about to be taken into custody when a neighbor stepped up and said that she was his daughter so that the sheriff and social worker wouldn’t take her. She escaped and went to live in a nearby town with an older woman she had known all her life.

Honey’s mother had been a “book woman”. During the depression, with the rough terrain and the way people were separated, many could not make it into town to go to the library. The government paid unmarried women to ride to people’s houses to deliver books and other reading materials. The program had been canceled. Honey’s mother, Cussy had been known for her role as a book woman. Honey had heard all the stories about her mother’s route. (In full disclosure, Cussie was not really Honey’s mother but while that point is brought out, it is not discussed much in this book.)

Honey moves to Troublesome Creek to live with Miss Loretta, who is in her 90s. There is a court hearing and the judge after some hesitancy allows Honey to live with Miss Loretta rather than go to the work camp. While Honey is still facing a lot of prejudice for being a “blue” she starts to settle down. She meets Pearl, who is the new woman fire tower watcher. Pearl and Honey become friends. The people in the town are prejudiced against Honey and some of the men are mad about Pearl getting the fire watcher job. They are upset enough that they damage the fire tower so that she can’t go to work immediately. They both have enemies.

The story goes on to tell about the obstacles faced by Honey over the next year. The poverty and animosity make her life difficult but she overcomes it because she is smart and resourceful. She becomes the new Book Woman as the post receives new funding.

There is no way around it – those were difficult times. Ignorance and lack of what we could consider basic necessities made life hard. It does make for an interesting read. I did find that I could follow the story without having read most of the first book. I think if you wish to go and read the first book, then you should do so but I would say to you that the first book certainly had more violence against women and “blues” than the second book.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it. The book will be published on May 3, 2022.

Thanks for reading.

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Starry Eyed Love by Helena Hunting

Dear Fellow Reader,

I have decided that it should be Spring. I’m sure the weather will cooperate, right? One can hope…

Last September I reviewed a book entitled When Sparks Fly by Helena Hunting. (https://cecooney.com/2021/09/21/when-sparks-fly-by-helena-hunting/)  When I started reading Starry Eyed Love, I was confused. It sounded so much like a book I had read but not exactly like it. It took me a minute to connect that this book was a sequel to When Sparks Fly. In the first book, we learned about Avery Spark and her love life. In the new book (to be published on May 10, 2022) London Spark, the middle sister is the center of attention.

London Spark has just ended a relationship that she didn’t feel was going to go anywhere. She and her sisters are in a bar talking when a handsome stranger makes a pass at London. She is not interested and shoots down the guy telling him that she just broke up with someone and is not interested.

Months pass. London gets a call from a large corporation asking for a meeting. It seems that the corporation would like to connect small firms with other firms interested in doing business in an ecologically sound manner. London is the business administrator of Spark House, the small inn that she and her two sisters run, and sees this as a big opportunity. She goes to the meeting and while she is talking to some of the corporate representatives, the CEO of the company, Jackson Holt, walks into the meeting and starts asking her a lot of questions. The guy looks familiar, but she can’t place him.

Of course, he ends up being the guy who hit up on her in the bar a few months before. There is a definite attraction there but since they are going to work together on a project, he knows he can’t act on the attraction. Thus begins a series of misunderstandings between the two of them.

While London loves working with her sisters, she is not exactly comfortable with her role as business administrator for the Inn. She has an Etsy company where she makes and sells floral arrangements and that is much more her love. How long can she continue to give up what she loves to work with her sisters?

I liked this book more than I liked the first book. If you are looking for a light read, this could be your book. There are plenty of conflicts both romantic and with her work life to keep it moving along. I also (which will come as a shock to those who know my feelings on reading books in order) don’t think you need to have read the first book to know what is going on in this book. (I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.) (Phew! I almost forgot the disclaimer.)

Thanks for reading!

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I Called Her Mary: A Memoir by Margaret M. O’Hagan and Thomas A Gorman, Ed.D.

Dear Fellow Reader,

Valentine’s Day is coming. A day that is dreaded by many and thought of as fun by others. Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love.

Well, I have a story for you that is all about love. Not wildly romantic love (although there is some romantic love in the story) but it tells of many kinds of love. You read about the love for parents for their children, the love between those children, the love of a mother for a child and the sacrifices that a mother will make for her child, and the love that children can have for their parents.

In I Called Her Mary, we meet Margaret O’Hagan. Margaret grew up poor in Ireland. She was born in 1937 and was the third of seven children. While not physically expressive of their love for each other, they nonetheless showed love in their actions and support.

My parents loved each other. They were very kind and their love carried over to all of us. We didn’t have much in the way of material things, but we had love. What else could a family possibly need? We must have been pretty stupid to be so happy in our squalor, but us kids didn’t know any better. We laughed every night and had so much fun together. It doesn’t really take that much to have a good time, especially when you have nothing.

I Called Her Mary

When Margaret was 18, she felt funny one day and the doctor came and checked on her. He told her and her mother that she was pregnant – 7 months pregnant. There were not many options for an unwed pregnant girl in Ireland back in 1955. Two weeks after the doctor’s announcement, Margaret was on her way to Sean Ross Abbey, a convent run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary. There she stayed until the birth of her baby. Mary (as Margaret named her) was born on April 24, 1955. Margaret was sure that her parents would come and get her and the baby. The nuns told her that they wouldn’t. But they did. Margaret went home with Mary and despite the sigma of their daughter having a child out of wedlock, they supported her. They loved both Margaret and her baby.

Margaret never would have predicted that the townspeople would be so terrible to her and the baby. They thought nothing of calling them derogatory names. They even barred her from entering the Church for Mass. It became apparent that if Mary was going to have the life that Margaret hoped for her that she would have to give her up for adoption. With a heavy heart but a belief that it was the best for her daughter, Margaret interviewed two parties and decided to give her beloved daughter to a family from the United States.

After two months, Margaret knew that she could not stay in Ireland any longer. There was nothing there for her. So, she obtained a sponsor and moved to New York to work for a family.

Margaret never forgot her daughter and wondered if she had had the life that she had hoped for when she let her be adopted. But life moved on for over 50 years. Margaret found love and had a family in the United States.

Then one day she received a call from Ireland. Her daughter was looking for her. Did she want to be found?

I truly enjoyed I Called Her Mary. It was a quick read and told a good story. While there were tough times, there was so much love. I think that you should put it on your TBR (to be read) pile.

You know how I often have to put in the disclaimer that I was given the book to read in exchange for my honest review? While that is not the case with this book, I do want to tell you that I know one of the people involved in this story. Does that color my perception? I don’t think so. A good story is a good story, and I didn’t know the whole story before I read the book.

The book is available through Amazon and can be found through this link.

Thanks for reading!

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The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post by Allison Pataki

Marjorie Merriweather Post

Dear Fellow Reader.

Finally. a book I enjoyed!  I have been on a terrible dry spell. Reading along but I did not find anything that I liked. I’m not even talking about books that you want to stand on the corner and shout about. I was just ready for a book that I liked. (I was given a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion about the book.)

I found happiness in the book The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post. (Publication date 2/1/5/22) It is a historical fiction book that covers the life of Marjorie Merriweather Post. Ms. Post lived from 1887 to 1973. Quite a span of history!

Easily. I picked the book due to the subject matter. I recognized the name right away but not with any context – I just knew that I had heard it before. Upon reflection. I connected it to the Post Cereal Company but that was about as far as I could get.

Marjorie Merriweather Post (MMP) was the only daughter of C.W.Post. the inventor of Grape Nuts cereal and Postum (a warm morning drink that is a coffee substitute). The cereal and drink were invented by C.W. as a result of a “cure” that he took from Dr. Kellogg of Battle Creek. MI. The two, Post and Kellogg, battled over the new cereal industry for many years. (Okay. they probably still do…)

Marjorie and her father were very close. He had her working on the original company when she was a young teen. When they finally started making money. he sent her to a private school in Washington D.C. where he also moved. He had a huge influence on her life.

The book is divided into four sections. These sections are uneven time periods. but they reflect the several large changes in her life. It could be said that Marjorie was not lucky in love. She was very good with business and the company prospered under her (distanced) guidance. She was not allowed to take over the direct management of the company because she was a woman. Her husbands served on the board and oversaw the day-to-day decisions but she was always involved and made several of the major changes even over her husband’s objections.

She was also a philanthropist. Not only contributing to worthy causes but also fundraising for various charities. She was an art collector and had an extensive collection of Imperial-era Russian art. (This collection is on display at Hillwood. one of the properties that she owned.) She owned a yacht (which she loaned to the Navy during WWII) and a jet. She built several mansions. including Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. FL. She knew how to spend her money on jewelry and property but did resist some of the excesses of the 1920s.

I found the story fascinating. It was a fairly quick read, and it was interesting until the very end. And I was interested enough after I read the book to lookup more about Marjorie Merriweather Post. A few interesting tidbits:

  1.  Glenn Close is the granddaughter of MMP’s first husband. Edward Close.
  2. Dina Merrill was the daughter of MMP and E. F. Hutton. She was an actress
  3. MMP’s third husband was the Ambassador to Russia before WWII.

There are so many other little things that made it an interesting read.

Thanks for reading!

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