Category Archives: Women Writers

Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates

Title: Little Bird of Heaven
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Length: 448 pages
A little difficult to digest, at times, but, overall – an excellent read. 

As should be rather clear by now, I’m a big fan of Joyce Carol Oates.  Her stories are raw, brimming with emotion, and, more often than not, the types of stories that will infiltrate your dreams and haunt you for hours, days, or, sometimes, weeks after you put the book down.  These types of stories aren’t for everyone, but they’ve always been my cup of tea.

This latest choice, however, proved to be a little difficult for me to power through at times.  This wasn’t due to any flaw in her story or writing, but more-so because my brain has been overloaded by other stuff that I didn’t feel fully energized to pick up all that she was throwing down.  And, oh boy, does she throw it down….

Little Bird of Heaven is set in a fictitious town in New York – small, working-class, and a little rough around the edges.  The narrative is broken out into sections – two by Krista Diehl and one by Aaron Kruller.  The characters are linked by a gruesome crime – the murder of Aaron’s mother, Zoe Kruller, a local singer who dreams of making it big and getting far away from this town.

Krista’s father, Eddy, is a prime suspect in the case, due to his affair with Zoe and the fact that he is the last person known to see her alive.  The other prime suspect is Aaron’s father, known to have a jealous and violent streak to him.  The reader watches the lives of, well, everyone, fall apart.  Love blossoms, love dies.  Some are driven to succeed and others are weighed down by the past, burying their woes in drugs and alcohol.

As in all of her novels, Oates paints a poignant, beautiful, and treacherous picture of the fragility of life and humanity.  She wades far out into the muck and manages to find and produce something beautiful.

Check out Little Bird of Heaven on the HarperCollins Page.

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Quotable Monday: Love and Longing

How mysterious it is, to be in love.  For you can be in love with one who knows nothing of you.  Perhaps our greatest happiness springs from such longings — being in love with someone who is oblivious of you.

Joyce Carol Oates, Little Bird of Heaven

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Sylvia Plath reads “Parliament Hill Fields”

Because there’s nothing quite like hearing a poet read their own poem…

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In the Woods by Tana French

Title:  In the Woods
Author:  Tana French
Length:  429 pages
Felt a little long (at times), but… LOVED IT!

So, this post would have been written yesterday or the day prior, but I was still wrapping this book up!  I will say that, at times, the book felt as long as the page numbers imply, but, overall, French weaves an excellent, edge-of-your-seat mystery in In the Woods.

As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox—his partner and closest friend—find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

Richly atmospheric, stunning in its complexity, and utterly convincing and surprising to the end, In the Woods is sure to enthrall fans of Mystic River and The Lovely Bones.

I decided that I wanted to read this book after glimpsing the synopsis on the back cover of an edition for sale in Target.  Since I’m trying to save money (!!), I opted to request this title from my local library and was notified a few days later that it was waiting for me behind the counter.  Eagerly, I dove into the story, but it took a little bit for me to feel truly SUCKED into the story and as though I absolutely needed to power through to the end.

The story is told through the narrative of Rob Ryan, a detective who was also once at the center of a case as a child, but has blocked out the memory of what really happened in the woods.  The mystery kicks off with Ryan, the adult, heading into the same woods that were the crime scene from his youth to take on a case of another child murder.

Against better judgment, Ryan and his partner, Cassie, keep the fact that Ryan was involved in a potentially linked case from their superiors, and the reader has a front row seat in Ryan’s extreme triumphs in memory and failure to maintain sanity throughout the life of the present-day case that he is tasked with solving.

French succeeds in making each character seem real, complete with fears, secrets, and countless instances of poor judgment…  you can’t help but be drawn into caring deeply about some and feeling totally frustrated and disgusted with others.  I am also a fan of the fact that everything doesn’t necessarily wrap up nice and clean in the end since, honestly, those types of endings seem to mirror reality more-so than those where everyone gets everything that the want, rainbows abound, and blue birds sing happy songs all around.

I definitely recommend In the Woods to anyone who enjoys mysteries and cop drama.  I’ve always been a fan of cop drama and am currently really into AMC’s The Killing.  Because of this, I pictured Ryan and Maddox as… you guessed it… Linden and Holder:

 

 

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Quotable Monday: Louisa May Alcott

Love is a great beautifier.


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Quotable Monday: Wanting – Sylvia Plath style

I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people that  I want and live all the lives that I want.  I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones, and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life.  And I am horribly limited.

Sylvia Plath

I find myself feeling this way quite frequently.  I guess that this is a big part of WHY I love Sylvia Plath oh-so-very much.

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The Covenant (Abram’s Daughters #1) by Beverly Lewis

Title:  The Covenant (Book #1 – Abram’s Daughters)
Author:  Beverly Lewis
Length: 320 pages
Ehhh…. kind of slow-paced

Ever since I first learned about the Amish community, I have been fascinated.  Pair this with the fact that, for some reason or another, the covers of the Abram’s Daughters have always been appealing to me.  And, as I’ve mentioned in the past, I am guilty of judging books by their covers.  So, on my last trip to the library, I wanted to pick out a book in addition to The Stepford Wives and stumbled across the first book in the series!

Book 1 of Abram’s Daughters series from bestselling author Beverly Lewis. Years of secrecy bind the tiny community of Gobbler’s Knob together more than the present inhabitants know, and the Plain folk who farm the land rarely interact with the fancy locals. So when Sadie is beguiled by a dark-haired English boy, it is Sadie’s younger sister, Leah, who suffers from her sister’s shameful loss of innocence. And what of Leah’s sweetheart, Jonas Mast, sent to Ohio under the Bishop’s command? Drawn into an incomprehensible pact with her older sister, Leah finds her dreams spinning out of control, even as she clings desperately to the promises of God. The Covenant begins a powerful Lancaster portrait of the power of family and the miracle of hope.

First, I will say that I am both proud and happy that I powered through this book to the end.  The story is very slow-paced and the majority of the first 150 pages or so feel more like a lesson on the daily lives of the Amish more-so than the beginning of a riveting fictional tale.  But, as I said, I’m fascinated by Amish culture and was determined to not abandon this book halfway through.

My perseverance paid off the closer I neared the end – the pace picked up, MAJOR drama unfolded, and there was even a little bit of romance sprinkled in there.  The story leaves off at the perfect time for leaving the reader wanting to leap into the second installment.   Yes, in fact, the last half of the book makes you forget just how slow the beginning was.  THAT much happens.

While I will hold off a few months or so before getting started on the second book, I’ll definitely give it a try.  I foresee enjoying it, especially if the pace mirrors the second half of The Covenant and not the first half.

The Covenant on Amazon.

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Kiyo’s Story by Kiyo Sato

Title:  Kiyo’s Story: A Japanese-American Family’s Quest for the American Dream (A memoir)
Author:  Kiyo Sato
Length: 352 pages

In this memoir, originally published as Dandelion Through the Crack, first generation Japanese-American Sato chronicles the tribulations her family endured in America through the Great Depression and WWII. Emigrating from Japan in 1911, Sato’s parents built a home and cultivated a marginal plot of land into a modest but sustaining fruit farm. One of nine children, Sato recounts days on the farm playing with her siblings and lending a hand with child-care, house cleaning and grueling farm work. Her anecdotes regarding the family’s devotion to one another despite their meager lifestyle (her father mending a little brother’s shoe with rubber sliced from a discarded tire) gain cumulative weight, especially when hard times turn tragic: in the wake of Pearl Harbor, the Satos find themselves swept up by U.S. authorities and shuffled through multiple Japanese internment camps, ending up in a desert facility while the farm falls to ruin. Sato’s memoir is a poignant, eye-opening testament to the worst impulses of a nation in fear, and the power of family to heal the most painful wounds.

Kiyo’s Story is the OTHER book that I picked up on our vacation.   Purchased at the Manzanar National Historic Site, I expected the bulk of this book to recount the time that the Sato family spent in an internment camp (not Manzanar), but my initial expectations were totally incorrect.

The memoir starts with the narrator’s father, Tochan, as a young boy in Japan, he is sent over to America with the following instructions from his mother – don’t ever come back.  This isn’t because she doesn’t love him – no, on the contrary, she loves him very much and wants a better life for him.  Tochan arrives in America, finds work, and settles into life in California, eventually learning to speak english.  In the following years, his brother also comes to America, working in the fields with him.  The only time that he does return to Japan is to find a wife – which he does, though, he chooses for himself instead of following the custom of an arranged marriage.

Once back in America, the Sato family begins to grow… and grow and grow and grow.  Nine children are brought into the world, sharing in the duties on the farm and falling in love with Tochan’s many stories – each teaching a special lesson.  Like any parent, they want the best for their children and they want them to lead even happier lives than they have.

Unfortunately, no one is prepared for what happens in this country against Japanese Americans after the bombing at Pearl Harbor.  Out of fear and discrimination, all of the Japanese living on the west coast of the United States are forced to move to “relocation centers” under guard.  Kiyo’s Story only spends a small amount of time focusing on their time at Poston, but her retelling of the events perfectly conveys the confusion and fear that everyone felt.

This memoir is about family, love, religion, and personal strength.  Each member of the Sato family overcame so much and never wavered in their faith nor in their desire to be accepted as American citizens.  This book is a must-read – especially if you’re someone who doesn’t understand what happened in our country during WWII.  Prior to this year, I only had a vague understanding of the events.  I am grateful to now be a little more informed.

Check it out on Amazon.

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Soiled Doves by Anne Seagraves

Title:  Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West
Author:  Anne Seagraves
Length:  175 pages
Fascinating!

Discover the fascinating yet grey world of prostitution and the women who participated in the world’s oldest profession.  Illustrated throughout with rare historical photographs of women like Molly b’Dam, Lil’ Lovell, and Mattie Silks.  This strong book provides touching insight into the lives of the ladies of the night, from pampered courtesans of the wealthy to enslaved Chinese girls.

Soiled Doves was one of my souvenirs from Death Valley.  The moment that I discovered that this book existed, I knew that I had to have it.  Still, it took me a day or two to really get myself to the point where I paid the $13 for it.  After completing the book, however, I am very glad that I did!

Prostitution is a part of our history.  It’s not called “the world’s oldest profession” for kicks and giggles.  Regardless, prostitution is something that we, as a society, shun and look down upon.  For the most part, it’s easier to pass judgment upon the occupation and not pause to give thought to the women who have lived it.  Seagraves ventures to shed some light on the history and experiences of these women, specifically in the Western United States, during the westward expansion.

This book is fascinating in that Seagraves provides general historical information about the red light districts, the varying levels of brothels, as well as more in-depth portraits about individual women – some of which are backed up with newspaper article excerpts and photographs.

Seagraves is obviously dedicated to the history of women (specifically in the West) and has written numerous books on the topic.  I know that I will most definitely be checking those titles out – though, I don’t know if I can wait until our next vacation out west!

View her titles on Amazon.

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Monday Quote: Creativity

This week’s quote is somewhat similar in meaning to the one from last week – only shorter.

The worst enemy of creativity is self-doubt

Sylvia Plath

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