A Few Books About Women

October had me in and out of stories about women –  all entertaining.  A ghost narrates in the first, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis has a cameo role in the second, the real socialites of New York City carry the plot in the third,  and a Greek chorus dominates the one I am currently reading.  Have you read any of them?

TCD-US-200x304   The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

Morton can always be relied on for a mix of history, romance, mystery, and a touch of the other worldly.  In The Clockmaker’s Daughter she alternates between a nineteenth century mystery and a modern bride’s dilemma.  As with her other books, this story is an easy read with just enough Gothic tension to keep the reader’s interest.

Plot Summary from the Author’s website:

“In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river…

Told by multiple voices across time, THE CLOCKMAKER’S DAUGHTER is a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss…{with one of the voices, the ghost of} Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.”

51czBXfdgkL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_  The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

A woman artist hides her identity in the 1920s, pretending she is a man, and Grand Central Terminal in midtown Manhattan houses an art school.

Plot Summary from Barnes and Noble:

“Within Grand Central Terminal,  two very different women, fifty years apart, strive to make their mark on a world set against them.

In 1928, twenty-five-year-old Clara is teaching at the Grand Central School of Art. A talented illustrator, she has dreams of creating cover art for Vogue, but not even the prestige of the school can override the public’s disdain for a “woman artist.”

Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, the terminal has declined and is the center of a fierce lawsuit: demolition or preservation. Virginia, recently divorced, has just accepted a job in the information booth to support herself and her college-age daughter, Ruby. When Virginia stumbles on the abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor hidden under the dust, she is drawn into the battle to save Grand Central and the mystery of Clara Darden, the famed 1920s illustrator who disappeared from history in 1931.”

636540551254787991-Caitlin-Macy-Mrs-HC-cover-image     Mrs. by Caitlin Macy

Following the model of Big Little Lies, Mrs. has a cast of women with disparate personalities and backgrounds coming together as the mothers in a prestigious New York City preschool. Secrets drive the plot, with a big reveal and a death at the end.

Plot Summary by Publisher’s Weekly:

“Gwen Hogan, Philippa Lye, and Minnie Curtis are all married to powerful men and send their children to the prestigious St. Timothy’s preschool. Gwen, married to a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, recently moved to Manhattan and is uncomfortable living in New York City. Philippa, married to the owner of an investment bank, seems both effortlessly stylish and aloof. Minnie, the wife of a wealthy financier, takes an unapologetic pleasure in her financial security that makes the other mothers uncomfortable. The three women bond over school gossip and the difficulties of parenthood, unaware that Gwen’s husband is conducting an insider trading investigation that implicates both Philippa and Minnie’s husbands. “

t_500x300The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

I just started this book – recommended by one of my favorite librarians – and the story and language have already captured my attention.  Have you read it?

Plot Summary from NPR:

“Reimagines “The Iliad” from the perspectives of the captured women living in the Greek camp in the final weeks of the Trojan War, as Briseis, conquered queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms, becomes caught between the two most powerful Greek leaders.”




Food for Book Clubs

n1026182Sometimes the food accompanying the book club discussion is better than the book.  Although some book clubs serve wine, I have never been to one.  One of my favorite women, however, always served champagne when it was her turn to host; I don’t remember any of the books we discussed, but I remember the champagne.

If you are ambitious or just want to impress, books with suggestions for food to enhance the discussion have ideas from casseroles to desserts:  Judy Gelman’s The Book Club Cookbook and Table of Contents are two of my favorites.  The My Recipe website  has a list of book with links to recipes.

I might like a book club focusing on the food first, and then the book.

Here are my suggestions for easing the discussion by pairing food with books. The recipes are on my other site – Potpourri with Rosemarie – just click on Recipes.

  • for J. Ryan Stradal’s Kitchens of the Great Midwest, Pat Prager’s chocolate peanut butter bars
  • for Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic, Aunt Isabelle’s Chocolate Tipsy Cake
  • for Robin Sloan’s Sourdough,  Christmas tree buns
  • for Isabel Allende’s In the Midst of Winter, Chilean cazuela
  • for Antsley Harris’ Goodbye, Paris, Grandma Elsie’s Mandel Bread
  • for any book – chocolate popcorn

What are your ideas for good food with good books?

Smile When You Read This

Today is World Smile Day, commemorating Harvey Ball, a commercial artist from Worcester, Massachusetts who created the smiley face in 1963.  Scientific studies prove your smile can reduce your stress and lower your blood pressure as well as your heart rate.  If you don’t feel like smiling outwardly today, smile inwardly, and adopt that enigmatic Mona Lisa upward tilt to your lips. You will feel better and everyone will wonder what you are thinking,

Looking for books to make me smile, I thought of a few I’ve read.  Click on titles in blue to read my review.

Checking on a few of the authors, I found some of their new books, guaranteed to crack a smile: Dave Barry’s Lessons from Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old Happy Dog, Carl Hiassen’s Razor Girl, and Christopher Moore’s Noir: A Novel.

9781501175183Right now I am smiling as I read Julia Sonneborn’s By the Book, a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Persuasion set at a university. “Professor Anne Corey is stunned to learn that her ex-fiance has been hired as Fairfax College’s new president. Her troubles are only beginning….”

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, author of Calm, Ease, Smile, Breathe, says:

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy,,,”

What makes you smile?

Period Piece

x400  With bawdy courtesans and ephemeral mermaids, Imogene Hermes Gowar’s debut novel – The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock – draws the reader into life in late eighteenth century London.  Although the story begins so slowly, taking its time to create the setting with a lonely widower merchant whose life begs for relief from his mundane existence, the pace picks up eventually, with rewarding insights and a rollicking plot.

When Mr. Hancock’s ship is traded for a mermaid, the narrative slogs along as he becomes prosperous exhibiting his fossilized find at a local bar, but when Bet Chappell, one of London’s well connected madams, hires his wizened little mermaid to draw customers to her upscale brothel, the honest merchant connects with one of her prize courtesans, Angelica Neal, and his life is never the same.

The chapters initially alternate between Angelica’s riotous life in prostitution and Jonah Hancock’s more subdued merchant arrangements.  Angelica has failed at her freelance attempts of selling herself and her debt threatens to force her to return to Bet’s “nunnery,” when the kind hearted Hancock pays off her debts and marries her. Their marriage is the chance for him to find happiness and for her to be secure.  Angelica jokingly asks Hancock to produce another mermaid just for her when the first is destroyed, and he takes her request seriously, requisitioning another ship to the Hebrides to find a new specimen.

As Hancock continues to invest, his fortune grows.  He speculates in successful real estate and buys an estate for Angelica in Greenwich.  Suddenly, the captain returns with his cargo – a live mermaid, a phosphorescent sea creature who periodically chimes in with italicized murmers between chapters.  Both Anglelica and the mermaid are fish out of water; both having difficulty acclimating to their new environment – Angelica in her respectable mansion and the mermaid hidden in the grotto at the edge of the estate. The captive mermaid seems to have a a mysterious effect on anyone who wanders close to her, producing a threatening and heavy sadness.

Gowars uses a cast of women to make her case for their surviving in the man’s world of the 1750s: crafty Mrs Chappell; persistent Angelica; former prostitute Bel Fortescue; mean-spirited Mrs Frost, and Mr Hancock’s  teenage niece Sukie, who is sent to live with her uncle.  Together, they keep the story moving to a satisfying ending.  And the mermaid?  Perhaps she didn’t really exist but she has powerful impact.

A Book List for National Coffee Day

UnknownCoffee – I look forward to that first cup every morning, and today is National Coffee Day in the United States, where you can savor a free cup at a few coffee shops.  What could be better than a good cup of coffee and a good book?  

First, where can you get a free cup of coffee today?

  • Dunkin’ Donuts
  • Krispee Kreme
  • 7 Eleven
  • Cinnabon

 I wondered about coffee references in literature.  Can you think of any?  Here are a few from books I’ve read: 

  • from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women: “I’d rather take coffee than complements right now.”
  • from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: “Good. Coffee is good for you. It’s the caffeine in it. Caffeine, we are here…”
  • from Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukura Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage: “The fresh smell of coffee soon wafted through the apartment, the smell that separates night from day.”
  • from J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye: “That’s something that annoys the hell out of me – I mean if somebody says the coffee’s all ready and it isn’t. 
  • from T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “I have measured my life out in coffee spoons.”

51U7v8YQdML._AC_US218_   Brazil is the largest producer of coffee (the United States is the largest consumer), so a new book set in Rio de Janeiro – The Caregiver by Samuel Park – seems appropriate for a coffee day. 

Quick Summary: “…examines the relationship between a mother and daughter after years of mutual misunderstanding. Ana, a voice-over actress, struggles to provide for her six-year-old daughter, Mara, in late 1970s Rio de Janeiro. Desperate for money, Ana takes on a dangerous job with revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the corrupt police chief. …Ana must separate from her daughter to save her from retaliation. Mara, with the help of her mother, escapes to California and years later finds work caring for a woman who’s dying of stomach cancer. During their time together, Mara begins to understand Ana in new ways as she considers her role as a caretaker.”

What are you reading as you sip your coffee today?

Related Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage