Tag Archive | women’s fiction

all we had

by annie weatherwax

Many of the books I read and review are given to me, and I’m grateful for the chance to experience such a wide variety of material.  I’m not complaining.  But there is something wonderful about selecting a book, anticipating the story and immersing yourself in the novel.  For Christmas a friend gave me a B&N gift card and I spent HOURS perusing the online store and was like a kid picking up, and putting back, the new toy until I found exactly the ones I wanted.

The first of my treasures I chose is “all we had” by annie weatherwax and, to be completely honest, I selected it because I was entranced by the cover. Yup, I judged this book by its cover and I’m so glad I did.

This is a story about a transient, underemployed, kindhearted mother Rita and her daughter, 13 year old Ruthie.  Rita has led a hard life becoming a mom at 16 and forced to use sex as a tool of power to find men willing to take them in and provide shelter and food.  This lifestyle is unimaginable to me, but Weatherwax managed to pen the character in such a way that she seems like a tragic human caught in a terrible situation doing what she has to in order to survive. She also understood the circle of poverty which can trap a person and she was determined to ensure her daughter got into an Ivy League school and made a better life for herself.  Commendable especially as a 29 year old having to resort to using, and being used, by men.  blog

Mom and daughter hit the road in a barely drive-able car and head from California to Boston, home of many top colleges. Despite the fact Ruthie is only 13, Rita is working toward the future and wants her daughter educated in the best schools and nearer to her future freedom from poverty.

…..and then things take a turn for the unexpected.

The women end up at a diner in a dying town in New York state and a cast of characters become the family they never had before.  Rita ends up waitressing, Ruthie works part time as a dishwasher and we get to watch a life build as money is made, housing is secured and friendships blossom.

I really loved the time in the diner. Weatherwax fleshed out each character, and as a reader, I was impressed with her ability to hook me despite my own initial misgivings.  One of the waitresses is transgender and not someone I’ve ever experienced in my own life but by the end of the book, Peter Pam was my favorite. I felt an attachment I wouldn’t have thought possible and was invested in her character.

And like many great novels, there is more to the story than just the adventures of a mom and daughter. Weatherwax was writing a fictionalized account of what much of America suffered during the sub-prime mortgage crisis in our country. People wanting to create their own American dream and instead ending up worse off than before.  Dreaming of home ownership but instead becoming caught even further in a cycle of poverty.  Besides the main characters, this is represented throughout the novel as factories move, diners disappear, neighbors going from frequent Walmart truck deliveries to destitution and, of course, Walmart encroaching on mom & pops which used to be a way of life.

I read this book in 2 days and had to force myself at 3am to put it down. I hope Weatherwax writes many more books. She is stellar.

 

For the US Book Reading Challenge – this was set in New York.

 

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Tupelo Honey

by Lis Anna-Langston

Coming from a very dysfunctional childhood, at 52 both my parents and my brothers are now gone and I find myself drawn to novels which deal with childhoods filled with hardship.  If I was Oprah or Dr. Phil I’d probably say I’m using fictional works to help myself reflect on my past and mourn the imperfect world in which I lived until marriage.  Whatever the reason, I can definitely say that when I find a gem like “Tupelo Honey” and when the tears fall over that character, I feel a cleansing of my own pain.  And it is good.

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Set in Mississippi in the 1970s, author Lis Anna-Langston has penned a story which is touching and insightful. Main character Tupelo Honey is an 11 year old with an absentee junkie-mom, a loving grandma called Marmalade and slightly ‘off’ uncle Randall.  She is a smart, savvy child who faces more challenges at her young age than most will see in a lifetime.  As all of us do, Tupelo Honey craves a feeling of being wanted.  Loved.  This is a need which is supposed to be lavished on us as youngster by our parents, but never knowing her dad and a mom not interested in parenting leaves a void in her young life.

Interestingly, mom introduces a boyfriend into the picture who ends up being a blessing.  Nash, a low level drug dealer initially made my own mom-hairs on the arm rise, but Anna-Langston uses him to show normalcy and love the way a parent should behave.  I enjoyed this unexpected character twist and appreciated the fact that the author shows the reader appearances can be deceiving.

My other favorite thing about this novel is the feeling of nostalgia it offers.  I found myself smiling at my own childhood fondness for bologna sandwiches with mayonnaise.  Our world of gluten free ancient grain whole wheat bread with organic mustard and sprouts is just not the same as Wonder Bread and Kraft Mayo.  Anna-Langston does not punch us in the face with the fact this is set in the 70s, but there are enough mentions to bring that time period to life.

This is a can’t-put-it-down page turner. Despite my feelings of guilt that the author likely spent thousands of hours writing, and I’m whipping through it like a tornado, I read this in two days. And my emo was high through most of it. I cannot praise enough a book which makes the reader feel all range of emotions – sadness, laughter, joy, relief….  To be completely honest it took three days to finish the book. I had just 20 or so pages left to go at 2am, but I forced myself to stop. I knew my heart needed to see the end during the light of day and not while I laid awake processing the ache of this character.

I don’t keep every book I read because I don’t have shelf space and I won’t waste precious reading time going back to re-read something which was not wonderful.  “Tupelo Honey” gets my highest recommendation when I tell you this one sits in pride of place on my bookshelf to be picked up again and again in the years to come.

 

 

The Lodger

by Louisa Treger

I love books, and I love to talk about books, but as a “book blogger” I struggle with excitement over sharing the experience I just had, with ruining the next reader’s unwrapping of an amazing present.

“The Lodger” is one worth unwrapping.  And do it slowly in order to savor the journey.  twitter

Confession time: I’m one of those readers who has a type.  I like contemporary fiction based in the US.  Am I dull?  Yes, I am.  But the first step in solving a problem is admitting…..ok, I just like what I’m familiar with as a person.  So, how did I end up reading a novel set in early 1900s London? Twitter.

If you are a reader, and not using Twitter to discover new authors, you are missing out. I stumbled onto the fact that writers are also people and like to talk to one another, as well as interact with us normal folk.  Whereas some fan girl over cute actors, I am an author fan girl. I am humbled to get a like or retweet of my amateur words from someone who is creative and brave enough to share their souls within the pages of a book.

Really savvy bloggers and authors frequently run contests on Twitter to share books, in print, e-books and even audio books.  I saw a contest for “The Lodger” and didn’t read a thing about it – I entered because the cover was beautiful.  I was drawn to it.  Luckily, I received an autographed copy from the UK which was also cool to receive international mail.

I opened the book and started page 1 having zero clue about the plot.  If you are a longtime reader of this blog you know that I became ill in 2013 and have struggled to return to my pre-injury reading ability. Things are still somewhat hard for me. I get distracted easily and if a book, tv show or movie doesn’t draw me in quickly, I fast lose interest and move on. Here’s the big deal about Treger’s book – I finished it in 2 days.  That is a celebratory moment and says a lot about the writing. I wanted to know more.

My husband saw me reading and reading and asked what the book was about – even at @100 pages in, my answer was “I don’t know”. I couldn’t pigeonhole this novel into a category.  Ultimately, for me, it was about a woman discovering herself and allowing us to watch the layers be pulled back.  Without spoiling your own discovery, Dorothy is a young, single woman in the city who struggles financially and has to make choices. Ah, the choices.  So many, so interesting, so unexpected.

Treger manages to capture characters who create all kind of emo. I was intrigued, confused, perplexed, angry….and at any given time I likely would have chosen much differently than the main character did in the end. What’s really wonderful about this novel is the writing style. You feel transported to a time when words flowed and were spoken with feeling, yet Treger manages to do so in such a way that reading her prose is effortless.

By the time the novel was done, and I was firmly #TeamDorothy, I discovered this wasn’t all just fanciful imagination. Treger based this novel on real people, and her use of Dorothy Richardson, discovered during thesis writing, made “The Lodger” even more intriguing. When you finish a book, and want to find out more about the subject or characters….that is time well spent.

And if you ever want to make this reader squeal, a signed book is your surest bet 🙂

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