Category Archives: fiction

Dear Charlotte:

21st April 2016

I’m a writer, of sorts, yet in all of my years writing about books and reading, I’ve written only briefly (here and here) about my love for Jane Eyre.

How does one talk about a book that has resided in heart and mind for so long? Suffice it to say, Jane was my friend at a young age, when I had no idea how to pronounce the words rendezvous or hors d’ouevres. I likely caught very little of the very adult love affair between Jane and Rochester the first few times I read about them, but I felt deeply the death of Helen and the harsh, unfair punishments Jane received while in school. And years later when I read it yet again and Jane wrenches herself away from the man she’s grown to love, I couldn’t imagine being that strong and brave. An autobiography, eh?

Of course, what kind of admirer would I be without having read your other works? I enjoyed them (and honestly need to reread them), but my heart belongs to Jane Eyre. I have mentioned briefly before that Jane Eyre is a hard book to love, but that’s a lie. What I meant by that is simply that so many people want to criticize it, both when you published it and all these many years later, and I, for one, have a hard time contextualizing criticism for a book I fell in love with at age 8.

So I’ll continue to love it, especially as, at its opening, Jane Eyre so perfectly described my reading experience as a little girl:

A breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room, I slipped in there. It contained a bookcase: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures. I mounted into the window- seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement.

Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves of my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.

Stormy days are still my favorite reading weather. How much pleasure – and pain and joy and hope – you’ve brought me over the years. Thank you, Charlotte, and happy birthday.

jenn aka the picky girl

Reading: Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

1st September 2015

girlwaitswithgun*I requested this book for review via NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

A collision between the Kopp sisters’ wagon and a dangerous silk factory owner’s automobile sets in motion much more than these secluded, secretive sisters bargained for. Shocked and appalled by Mr. Kaufman’s failure to assist, apologize to, or compensate she and her sisters, Constance Kopp confronts the man in his place of business. His response is months upon months of threats, sinister letters, and damaged property.

Unwilling to move her troupe to her brother’s family’s house in town, Constance takes it upon herself to defend her family and their property, by any means necessary, accepting and learning to use a gun at the urging of the local sheriff and even involving the press, earning a headline in the papers: Girl Waits With Gun. Along the way, the sheriff comes to respect Constance for her determination and can-do spirit.

Based on a true story, Girl Waits With Gun is great fun, though the ever-present danger the Kopp sisters face gives the book an edge I hadn’t quite expected. I either hadn’t remembered or didn’t know the book was based on a true story, and learning that, along with the real v. embellished factoids at the end, was enjoyable.

My only real complaint is that the way Constance’s story ends (I won’t spoil it, even though if you read anything about this book you’ll likely find out), I was even more interested in her future endeavors, as well as those of Fleurette, a naive, effervescent young woman, and their sister Norma, whose tough demeanor and handling of carrier pigeons made me curious as to her own story.

Add this to your Goodreads list here.

Series Obsession: Aunt Dimity by Nancy Atherton

29th July 2015

My reading has taken a distinctly different path since I complained about my “all cozy mystery, all the time” reading diet. However, reading about the Pacific War all the time could get a girl down, so for every nonfiction book or so, I throw in a cozy mystery.

My first experience with Aunt Dimity was Aunt Dimity & the Lost Prince back in 2013, and as fun as I proclaimed the series, it wasn’t until this year that I picked her up again. Since then, I’ve read six others, and Atherton’s latest, Aunt Dimity & the Summer King is no less charming. Aunt Dimity isn’t exactly a ghost, per se…but she does “speak” to Lori Shepherd through her notebook. For someone who really hates reading anything supernatural, Dimity’s presence doesn’t bother me. In fact, she is frank enough to often put Lori in her place when she needs it, something more cozy mystery heroines could use.

In Aunt Dimity & the Summer King, Lori’s beloved Finch seems to be in some kind of trouble. There are rumors of a developer coming in, changing the pastoral neighborhood (nosy neighbors and all!), and pricing out the locals.

But Lori can’t get any inside information. Upset about the possibility and distracted by family events and a looming birthday, Lori is thrilled when she meets her father-in-law’s eccentric neighbor Arthur Hargreaves. However, his name is mud with Lori’s neighbors over some ages-old feud between Finch and the adjacent village, of which Hargreaves is a part.

Lori (with Aunt Dimity’s ever-present help) is just the person to sort out such a mess and put to bed old grudges.

Aunt Dimity & the Deep Blue Sea was one of my favorites. Lori’s husband Bill receives a series of death threats. Scotland Yard believes it must be a former client (Bill is a family estate attorney), but to be safe, Lori and the boys are ferried to a remote island off the Scottish coast. The boys have their own bodyguard, as does Lori. But the island is harsh and unforgiving, proven when a human skull washes ashore.

A chance encounter with a family friend puts even more suspicion in Lori’s head, and with the evidence mounting, Lori is sure the island’s inhabitants have a secret.

More suspenseful than others I’ve read in this series, Aunt Dimity & the Deep Blue Sea would be a great entry into the series.

In Aunt Dimity & the Family Tree, Lori’s hair is on fire. She’s attempting to event plan and hire her father-in-law’s staff all at one time. When a local gets herself into trouble, Aunt Dimity offers up a plan that’s sure to work…if absolutely everything goes perfectly. But of course, in Finch, there is no perfect, but Lori is more concerned about Willis, Sr. and his new live-in staff. They’re a little too good at their jobs, and Lori worries they may be trying to hoodwink her father-in-law.

Dimity keeps her from jumping to too many conclusions, and she learns a lot more than she bargains for by the end of the day.

Aunt Dimity seems to be a well-loved series, as each time I mention it or post a book on Facebook or Goodreads, someone comments. There’s little violence here, but Atherton’s look at village life in the Cotswolds has me aching to visit.

*While Aunt Dimity & the Summer King was sent to me by the publisher for review, I have purchased the other Aunt Dimity books I have read and have given my honest opinion of each.

Reading: Dietland by Sarai Walker

27th July 2015

dietland*I requested this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Once upon a time, when a young picky girl was working on her graduate degree, she immersed herself in feminist theory and literature – as any good twenty-something English graduate student should. She wrote of women who killed – specifically, women who killed their children, and why and how literature treats them afterward.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman played quite a role in that young woman’s thesis, but Herland was one of the texts that stuck out in her mind, though it wasn’t all that good. What an odd concept – a world without men.

When I picked up Dietland, that much older novel didn’t register. I anticipated a funny, wry look at society and the emphasis we place on weight, particularly women’s weight. Women’s space – how much we take up of it and how much we may lay claim to – is a fascinating conversation. Plum Kettle understands that deeply. At 300 pounds, Plum has lived her entire life completely aware of her size. Others make sure she knows just how large she is.

But Plum has a secret. Working from home for a teen girls’ magazine and stockpiling clothes many sizes too small for her, Plum is waiting for the day she will go under the knife and be able to drop pounds upon pounds and become who she was intended to be.

Except that a mysterious woman seems to be following her. When the woman slips her a copy of a book written about the lie of a particular weight loss program she endured as a young woman, Plum’s life is altered.

At the same time, men around the world are being threatened, hunted, and killed for any number of offenses – rape, institutional sexism, porn (the creation of it, specifically).

Only when she encounters an enclave of women who extract from her a promise to follow a series of steps prior to her surgery does Plum understand what it means to “come into her own.”

Whereas Herland is an exploration of a world without men and what happens when men tread on such a space, Dietland is a harsh, in-your-face look at our society and the ugliness of a world where women’s bodies are public.

Dietland is not an enjoyable book. I’ve read some reviews that describe it as “funny,” but frankly, that’s not a word I would use to describe it. The guerrilla group “Jennifer” methodically threatens, maims, and/or kills those who perpetrate crimes against women as well as those who support or fund such crimes. That’s not a feminism I’m at all familiar with, and it’s certainly not something I support.

Dietland is fiction, yes. I also understand that describing our society’s ills in such gross excess and punishing it accordingly may make some sort of point, but again, it’s not at all comforting/comfortable to read.

You may argue that is exactly the point, and I know it is. Dietland, in many ways, seemed a response to Herland – a look at what happens if men are allowed to infiltrate and influence a society of women, a cautionary tale at best; a horror story at worst.

Add this to your Goodreads list.

In Which I Liked a Nicholas Sparks Movie…

15th April 2015

For real. So the bff and I rarely get to spend any time together. She’s got three kids; they’re all uber involved in extra activities…yada yada yada. When I realized I’d have a Friday evening to myself, I figured I’d see if I could hang out with her and the kids, but she called and practically yelled in the phone, “It’s meant to be! I don’t have the kids tomorrow! Let’s go see The Longest Ride!”

She hung up about as quickly, leaving me to Google The Longest Ride and then groan. Because The Longest Ride is a Nicholas Sparks movie, based on his book. And I hate Nicholas Sparks films – though that isn’t quite fair, I’ve only watched one – The Notebook – under duress (same bff gave it to me and bugged me for six months until I watched).

Friday afternoon I girded my loins to go the theater to see a film about a cowboy and love. Yech.

At least, I thought I was going to see a mushy film about a cowboy and love. What I actually saw…was a mushy film about a cowboy, and a girl, and an old man thinking back on the love of his life. Cheesy as hell, but I actually liked it.

There was still the obligatory rain scene (I swear, someone could do an academic paper about Sparks’ use of rainy scenes. He must think there’s some real symbolism there or something. Yes! The rain washes away who I used to be and now I am clean and free to love you!). Anyway, there’s also not much in the way of character development: I know two things about Sophia, one of the main characters. She was raised by Polish immigrants. And she likes art.

Similarly, her paramour, Luke, rides bulls to keep his momma on the ranch because Daddy died of a heart attack. But momma doesn’t care about the ranch and wants Luke to stop bull riding because a bull nearly killed him. Motivation enough? I guess.

BUT. The real gem of the film is the relationship between Ruth and Ira, a Jewish couple who meet at the start of World War II, when Ruth’s family immigrates to the US from Vienna. Luke and Sophia save elderly Ira from a car crash, and he asks Sophia to go back for a box of letters that chronicle his relationship with his love. She develops a relationship with the old man, reading him the love letters he wrote and can no longer read and gaining insight into love, life, and relationships.

And I loved it.

Had the majority of the film focused on the contemporary couple, it would have been a snoozefest, but watching Ruth and Ira fall in love in flashbacks and navigate the problems couples encounter was really lovely. Their lifelong love affair was beautiful.

Even though I never thought I’d find myself saying this, I’d actually recommend The Longest Ride. It may be rental material, but if you want a love story that won’t make your eyes roll back in your head (I’m looking at you, every rom-com ever), try this one.