Read Women 2014: July

Wow, is the summer going by fast. I swear it was just last week when I posted about June’s books. Got a little more reading done this month which is always a great thing. Enjoy.

Book #25: America Walks Into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops- Christine Sismondo

First of all, because of this book I discovered there is a profession called “saloon historian” and when I found this out I realized all the wrong paths my life has taken because this is not my job. Sismondo’s well researched story has great tidbits (a number of battles of the Revolutionary War were named for taverns) and overwhelming evidence to support the foundational nature of taverns, bars, etc. in American culture. The rise of the cocktail giving way to the age of temperance caused a pang in my heart like I was there myself. Damn you, Carrie Nation! And now I want to open a bar named Carrie Nation just to jab a thumb in her long dead eye. Who’s with me?

Book #26: Complicit- Stephanie Kuehn

I want to say thank you to Stephanie Kuehn though I’m not sure exactly why I should be thanking her for two mornings in a row when I woke up groggy because I had stayed up late reading her twisty tale. That’s not something I encounter very often anymore, the not-being-able-to-put-a-book-down feeling that makes me look at the my nightstand clock and think, “just one more chapter, one more paragraph, I swear!”

You know from the beginning everything is not quite like it seems, this family is too messed up for that. I was a tad bit disappointed that I discerned a bit of the ending but felt better when I realized what I had gleaned was only the tip of the iceberg. Great twisty ending that makes you glad you don’t live in the same town as this family. Or at least I hope not…

Book #27: All the Birds Singing- Evie Wyld

This story might be disconcerting to some as it goes back and forth in time with little notice. I didn’t have much trouble following the movements, Wyld’s writing was natural and fluid and I was easily carried along by the current. The writing is spare, no florid emotions or superfluous descriptions. The main character, Jake, is living on an island in the English channel (I think, not sure if it ever specifically mentions the channel) in present day but the story shifts around her past life in Australia as well. Jake has a bit of a checkered past and just wants a bit of peace and quiet and to be left alone tending her sheep. Everything goes along just fine until something starts to kill her sheep and a stranger shows up on her doorstep…

Unfortunately, you don’t get a lot more closure than that. The ending comes like a slap in the face and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I loved Jake as an anti-hero and hero at the same time. In other words, a normal person. Wyld’s style was lyrical and bare and it kept me reading right along until the brick wall of the ending.

Book #28: Bones of Contention- Jeanne Matthews

Jeanne Matthews has a great way with a phrase. In the opening scene, her character Dinah Perkins is flying in a two-seater plane described as a “flimsy tin cricket.” It’s a great beginning to a fun mystery centered around Dinah and her, let’s say, challenging family. Dinah is an American but the story takes place in Australia and Matthews has a lot of fun sprinkling in Australian, or ‘Strine, slang and references throughout. Dinah’s responds to her eccentric pilot’s assertion that he was “as harmless as a rubber ducky and that’s the dinki-di” by thinking “if he imagined she could relax he was dinki-delusional,” and I laughed out loud.

Matthews gets a bit carried away with her Australian landscape and takes some unnecessary detours that don’t add to the story and slow down the pace. However, I enjoyed this mystery overall and am looking forward to the next Dinah Pelerin adventure.

Book #29: The Care and Management of Lies- Jacqueline Winspear

Winspear is deft at recreating life in pre-war (and during-war, what’s the word for that?) England. The story of the soldier in the trenches might be familiar to many but the portrait of life back home is less common and is a valuable trait in this novel. The novel follows Kezia Brissenden (formerly Marchant) and best friend Thea Brissenden through the beginning of World War I. Kezia marries Thea’s brother Tom shortly before the war begins and the dynamic among the three shifts even as the build up to the war promises even greater changes ahead.

Tom enlists shortly after the war begins (and shortly after his marriage) and Thea volunteers to serve as an ambulance driver while Kezia is left to manage the family farm, a challenging task for a vicar’s daughter. The three perspectives of the war are fresh and authentic and Winspear’s unadorned, flowing writing helps ease the reader into the futility of the Great War.

Book #30: Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots- Deborah Feldman

I bought this book after browsing through Main Street Books in Frostburg, MD while on a getaway weekend for some relaxation time (including lots of reading and writing). If you are anything like me you cannot go into a bookstore and come out empty-handed. I was very strong and only bought two books and once I started reading this one I had no regrets (like I ever do about buying books). This story fascinated me. The Hasidic community is hidden from the lives of most and the glimpses offered by Feldman make this one of the most interesting memoirs I’ve ever read. I had to keep reminding myself this wasn’t written decades (or centuries) ago, the author is still only in her twenties. Rituals and rules and rigidity form the foundation of the author’s life and the courage it must have taken to leave (and then write about it) astounds me. I read this book in two days. I was on a little mini weekend vacation while reading it so that helped but Deborah’s story was gripping and I couldn’t stop reading. The ending where she leaves her husband and gets a divorce feels rushed and I could imagine an editor pressing Feldman to hurry up and finish so they could get the book out. I hope in her next book (and I definitely hope there is a next book) this part of her life is examined again and we get the level of detail she brought throughout the rest of her life thus far.


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