40 Days of Book Praise, Day 14

RamonaGravitarFor 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.

Day 14, Crazy in Love by Luanne Rice

crazy in love

This is one of Luanne Rice’s earlier books, but it’s the first of her many novels I read, so Crazy in Love makes this list though newer work has followed. This is a story about obsessive love, but not in the creepy stalker “don’t go in the basement, you fool” kind of way. It’s more of a “love can make you crazy if you think your marriage must—or even can—be perfect” kind of way. Georgie Symonds lives in a small family compound on the Connecticut shore with her husband, Nick; her sister and family; her mother; and her grandmother. Nick works on Wall Street and flies back and forth by seaplane because Georgie wants to spend every night together. Her fears are not so much about infidelity as loss of intimacy, but her drive for more intimacy is what is driving Nick to separate from her. But the state of Georgie’s marriage is only half of the story. Her mother is a retired TV “weather girl,” a trailblazer in her time, but now she’s trapped alone and caring for her own mother, Georgie’s grandmother Pem, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Mom tries to keep the more unpleasant parts of that a secret, but eventually that takes its toll, and the care of Pem becomes a concern for them all. There are four generations of women on this small place by the water, and their dependencies and ordinary conflicts make this book readable and real, and never more so than when an unexpected tragedy hits.

Why is Crazy in Love a good read for women? The daughter-mother-grandmother dynamic is a starter. Georgie is a complex character who gets in her own way with her unrealistic need for perfection and her crazy love for Nick. But through Mom the weather girl’s observations and a secondary storyline with Georgie winning a grant focusing on human behavior, there’s a quirky science sideline that adds depth to the story. I wanted everyone in this family to be happy, even if that happiness was less than perfect.

40 Days of Book Praise, Day 13

RamonaGravitarFor 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.

Day 13, Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

ellen-foster

Ellen, the narrator of this novel set somewhere in the South, is innocent but wise, ignorant but smart, and always hopeful that her lot will get better, because it sure as heck can’t get worse. All Ellen wants is a family. She is 11 when her mother dies from a weak—or maybe wearied—heart. Ellen is not safe with her mean, drunken father. Her bitter and paranoid grandmother uses Ellen as free labor and an emotional punching bag. One aunt can’t keep her. Another aunt could keep her but won’t because that would mean taking a minute’s attention away from her own spoiled daughter. Ellen’s friend Starletta and her parents are kind and welcoming, but in this place and era, Ellen can’t move in with a black family. Ellen’s well-meaning hippie teacher takes her in but it’s temporary. Finally, at church, Ellen notices a kind-looking woman and her well-behaved children. She is told they are a foster family. Misunderstanding, Ellen decides this Mrs. Foster should be her new mother and the Fosters should be her new family. She sets out to make that happen.

Why is Ellen Foster a good read for women? Female characters dominate this story, and the portraits are not all flattering, but Ellen’s message is about determinedly seeking what you want despite overwhelming obstacles. In Ellen Foster, Kaye Gibbons created a child narrator as memorable and effective as Scout Finch or Bone Boatwright. Ellen tells her story through the perspective of a powerless child who doesn’t understand how powerful adults can allow the wrongs of the world to happen. Reading this book will leave you wondering the same thing.

40 Days of Book Praise, Day 12

RamonaGravitarFor 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.

Day 12, No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin

No ordinary time

I am stretching the boundaries of good books for women with this massive work covering “Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II” but it would impossible—for me—to write a list of positive anythings about women and leave out Eleanor Roosevelt. The second very good reason is that this book is the work of author, historian, and political analyst Doris Kearns Goodwin, herself a national treasure.

This ambitious but accessible work of historical nonfiction is as much an account of the machinations of the White House during trying years of war as it is an examination of a complex marriage. One chapter opens with a reporter asking Eleanor how the president thinks. Eleanor’s response was, “The President never thinks. He decides.” It’s a great quip, but imagine being married to that guy. Famous figures come and go. There are amusing anecdotes. Intimacy and distance are equal partners for the President and First Lady, but their mission for the good of the country never wavers. The toll of the war on the country, the weight of leadership of those in power, the weariness of the assistants, helpmates, wives, and friends are portrayed in detail that is sharp and fascinating. Goodwin writes in a steady but touching style that makes complicated meetings and moments seem vital and relevant in their historical context. Its size may be off-putting but it is never ponderous or dull. This book won the Pulitzer Prize and is a must-read for anyone interested in learning how a war and a presidency shaped the United States into modern America.

Why is No Ordinary Time a good read for women? Eleanor Roosevelt. Need I say more?

40 Days of Book Praise, Day 11

RamonaGravitarFor 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.

Day 11, The Pursuit of Love & Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

pursuit of love

The English country gentry are a delight as entertainment, as testified by the millions who enjoy the upstairs/downstairs antics at Downton Abbey. Long before the fictional Crawleys were a Masterpiece hit, their heir-to-the-estate problems were embodied by the real-life Mitfords. These six sisters made the bickerings of Ladies Mary, Edith, and Sybil look like holding hands and singing Kumbaya. The Mitford girls were Nancy (a novelist); Jessica (a communist): Debo (a duchess); Diana (a fascist); Pamela (a chicken breeder); and Unity (who befriended Hitler and then shot herself the day England declared war on Germany). There was one Mitford son, Thomas. Like many other promising young heirs of his generation, Tom was killed in the Second World War.

Nancy, the oldest, used her family’s eccentricities and charms as fodder for her stories. Her most well-known creation are Lord & Lady Radlett and their wild and crazy family. Despite their differing beliefs, the Mitford sisters had a few things in common–loyalty to England, irrational affection for dogs, and an idealized view of love–and the made-up Radlett girls reflected those feelings. These two short novels are often published together because both detail the primary pursuit of the Radlett daughters—to meet a suitable man and bind with him into a bearable marriage. This was, at that time, no less of a challenge than it is in 2015. The two heroines, Linda Radlett and her cousin Polly Hampton, may be beautiful and privileged, but they are no less dreamy-eyed, terrified, and unlucky about love as their more modern counterparts.

Why is The Pursuit of Love & Love in a Cold Climate a good read for women? First, Nancy Mitford was a brilliant comic writer. The stories poke affectionate fun at the affectations of lords and ladies, but it’s also honest in admiring certain elements of their world. When war comes, each person on the estate is expected to do their bit to save England. When rationing comes, they endure together. When scandal comes—and oh boy, does it—they hold up their heads because, after all, they are the Crawleys. I mean, the Mitfords. I mean, the Radletts. Whatever the name, they are a family and, with Nancy Mitford’s witty and clever pen, the girls’ pursuit of suitable husbands are heartfelt. Who, after all—titled or untitled—does not want to be happy in love?

40 Days of Book Praise, Day 10

RamonaGravitarFor 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.

Day 10, Prairie Songs by Pam Conrad

prairie songs

Few people would argue that it took strong, stout, and brave people to settle in the American midwest. Native Americans understood the harshness of the land and seasons, and young pioneer Louisa loves the miles of grasslands and open skies in the only home she’s ever known. But vast spaces are not for everyone, most particularly for the new arrivals in Louisa’s world: a doctor from New York City and his wife, elegant and mercurial Emmeline. For a while, Emmeline brings exciting changes to Louisa’s life. She gives Louisa and her shy little brother Lester reading lessons. She introduces Louisa to poetry. Louisa can’t help but compare her own mother to Emmeline, and for the first time, she sees her mother as a woman: hearty and warm, but also as wrinkled and worn as a walnut. Momma is also insightful, and it is she who recognizes that Emmeline’s quick-changing moods are more than a temperamental nature. As the harsh winter descends, Emmeline falls first into depression, and then into despair, and finally into madness, and neither Louisa nor Momma nor her doctor husband can help Emmeline.

Why is Prairie Songs a good read for women? As in her other Nebraska book, My Daniel, Pam Conrad’s descriptions are both lovely and harshly illuminating. Pioneer life is often romanticized, and the relentless hard work women performed each day just to feed and clothe their families minimized. Conrad explores the isolation prairie women suffered to the extreme in Emmeline, but her story is tragic and unforgettable.

NOTE: This book was published in 1985. Pam Conrad died of breast cancer in in 1996, at age 48. Reading this and her other stories and poems will keep her work and memory alive.

40 Days of Book Praise, Day 9

RamonaGravitarFor 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.

Day 9, Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty

feeling sorry for celia

This YA novel by Australian author Jaclyn Moriarty (sister of Liane and Nicola, also authors) is the first of several stories set at two imaginary high schools in Sydney—Ashbury, the toney private school; and Brookfield, the raucous public school. The five Ashbury-Brookfield books are standalones with crossover characters, and all are written using narrative as well as media. In Feeling Sorry for Celia, we meet Elizabeth Clarry, a typical high school girl whose life suddenly gets complicated: her absentee father wants to reconnect; her wacky mother communicates through notes on the fridge; her best friend Celia keeps falling off the grid; and an unidentified boy on the bus has begun leaving “secret admirer” type notes. When a teacher assigns an Ashbury-Brookfield pen pal project, Elizabeth finds a place to spill her questions and record the crazy events through letters and postcards. The pen pal responds in kind, but so do several imaginary organizations—such as the Cold Hard Trust Association and The Best Friends Club—who offer sympathy, criticism, cheerleading, and comeuppance. Elizabeth discovers the world is a small place as the unconnected bits of her life begin to reach out and touch other another.

Why is Feeling Sorry for Celia a good read for women? Elizabeth Clarry is an Everygirl. She is both special and not special at all. You’ll guess alongside as she tries to figure out which of the Brookfield boys is leaving the notes, and you’ll hold your breath in dismay when she wonders if she’s the butt of a practical joke. In Moriarty’s capable hands, the teenage characters are real, but they are also mostly nice. They are people, not kids or people-in-progress. This is also a story about relationships and taking the chance to learn about and like someone who is not like you, and to embrace people who are odd. Such as Mom. The  mother-daughter relationship is quirky, but it’s full of trust and caring. Mom is an individual, and her portrayal makes it easy to understand why Elizabeth is independent and sensible, but also likable and fun.

40 Days of Book Praise, Day 8

RamonaGravitarFor 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.

Day 8, The House by the Sea by May Sarton

house by the sea

This journal was my introduction to the work of poet, novelist, and essayist May Sarton. It has been described as her “second act” and is a personal account of her move from her longtime home in inland New Hampshire to a house on the coast of Maine. In this house by the sea, May lives alone—but for her beloved cat Bramble and the first dog May’s ever owned, a puppy named Tamas—in a place described as nothing but endless ocean, woods, and vast skies. The small village is isolated most of the year, and isolation is a theme May addresses here and in much of her work. The journal entries are casual, sometimes rambling, and run the topical spectrum from deep themes of aging, friendship, failure, envy, sexuality, and success, to the everyday annoyances of a racoon that makes regular and noisy visits to her garbage cans at night. May loved to garden and her observances of nature are sometimes meaningful and sometimes matter-of-fact. She reflects upon her life and enjoys visits from friends, but the self-doubt that is never far from her as an artist appears as well. She finds tranquility in her garden and her pets, so much so that she wonders if she will ever write again. Luckily, her passion to create returns and she shares the joy when it does.

Why is The House by the Sea a good read for women? May Sarton was a complex person whose journals are an honest, intimate account of her simple but layered life. It is not pleasant to grow older. It is sad to part from a lover after 15 years. It stings to read a bad review. It is hard to balance giving and taking. It is a struggle to be creative when your work comes from a fragile internal place, but it is also a celebration when a poem or a paragraph works. May Sarton’s journals are brilliant work, and like her poems and novels, show her gratitude for simple pleasures and appreciation of the natural world, while acknowledging that the interior one is fraught with complications.