Tag Archives: Books

52 Years of The Bell Jar

TBJ

The Bell Jar was originally published on January 14, 1963.  So, as per usual, I am late in my blog post commemorating the anniversary!  If you’ve read older posts on my blog then you already know how much I adore Sylvia Plath and her writing.  I have her signature tattooed on my body, I visited the site of her former dormitory at Smith College, yadda, yadda, yadda….

The Bell Jar wasn’t the first piece that I read by Plath, but it is the piece that I connect with the most. I actually couldn’t tell you how old I was when I first read this novel, but I can tell you that I was a teenage girl struggling with things that teenage girls struggle with, but those teenage girl struggles sat atop something much deeper that I didn’t quite know how to put into words. Luckily, Sylvia Plath did. Finding this novel was like finding a confidant or a best friend who knew exactly what I was feeling. Someone who knew how hard it could be to just wake up in the morning and do the things that you love. Or just breathe. For me, this novel was a lifeline, and, in many ways, it still acts as one today.

Plath, like no other writer that I’ve read (yet?), illustrates depression very accurately. There is nothing fluffed up in the pages of The Bell Jar, and there aren’t any apologies either. The novel fully explores the darkness, the hopelessness, the madness, the stigma, and the unpredictability of the disease. You can’t necessarily look at another person – or their life – and really be able to tell whether or not they suffer from depression. But, yes, it is a disease, and, unfortunately, it sometimes feels as though it’s one disease that the sufferer needs to be embarrassed of or apologize for.

One of the greatest gifts that literature gives to the world is its ability to connect people across time, culture, space. In the case of The Bell Jar, we have a novel written 52 years ago that is as relevant now as it was then. To be a  person stifled by a bell jar of one’s own – to be able to pick up this novel and know that someone else out there, at some point in time, felt like you do right now. That’s an amazing and beautiful thing.

In conclusion, here are some of my favorite quotes from The Bell Jar.  What are yours?

“The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people. And I thought,’This is what it is to be happy.'”

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Contantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above were many more figs that I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

Plath

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Filed under American Author, American Poetry, Sylvia Plath

Reading Goals for 2013

We’re almost at the end of the first month of 2013 and, hopefully, we haven’t all called it quits on our resolutions already.  I personally set goals for myself for the upcoming year and, usually, kind of fail at making them all come to fruition.  However, one set of goals that I tend to take rather seriously are my reading goals – or, rather, my hopes and dreams – for the year.

As mentioned in my final post of 2012, I didn’t hit my goal of overall number of books to read last year.  I have my reasons for not hitting that number, but I’d like to accomplish my goals for this year as a way to make up for last year’s shortcomings.  But we’re only 26 days into the year and I’ve already tweaked some of my goals.  Oops.

Let us start with the number of books that I would like to read this year.  On GoodReads, I set myself a goal of 35 books.  I think that I can do this.  Two years ago I read just over 40, so my hopes are high.

In conjunction with the total number of books that I’d like to devour, I originally set a challenge for myself to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I was ready to go, high on the excitement of watching (re-watching when it comes to the trilogy) the films, cracking jokes about Gandalf and tricksy hobbitses.  While I read The Hobbit for the second time in my life, however, I realized that it’s exceedingly difficult for me to get into third person narrations.  Especially when the fact that it is written in this manner cannot be escaped.  Basically, if it reads too much like a storybook, I wind up getting bored and struggling.

I haven’t abandoned the hope of reading Tolkien altogether, but I’m not maintaining this goal for 2013.  INSTEAD I want to challenge myself to read primarily historical fiction this year.  So, let’s say, at least 75%.  Pair the fact that I am admittedly obsessed with the Tudors and Anne Boleyn with my never tiring of these books, I think that this is a very feasible (and enjoyable) goal.

What are your reading goals for 2013?

Perhaps while I read these books, I will wear my new Anne Boleyn hoodie, bought from the tartx shop on Etsy.  It arrived last night and is beautiful, comfortable, and warm.  If you’re a fan of the Tudors or anything historical and classy, check out her shop.  You shan’t be disappointed.

Anne Boleyn hoodie from tartx on Etsy

Anne Boleyn hoodie from tartx on Etsy

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Filed under 2013, Books

Rizzoli & Isles: Body Double by Tess Gerritsen

Title:  Body Double (Rizzoli & Isles series)
Author:  Tess Gerritsen
Length: 339 pages
Loved it!

It’s been a while since my last Rizzoli & Isles novel.  After reading Body Double, though, I know that I will not have as long as a gap before reading the next book in the series!  Once again, Gerritsen kept me guessing and glued to the story.  Before I jump into my thoughts, here is a synopsis of the book:

Boston medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles literally meets her match–and must face a savage serial killer and shattering personal revelations–in the brilliant new novel of suspense by the New York Times bestselling author of The Surgeon and The Sinner.
Dr. Maura Isles makes her living dealing with death. As a pathologist in a major metropolitan city, she has seen more than her share of corpses every day–many of them victims of violent murder. But never before has her blood run cold, and never has the grim expression “dead ringer” rung so terrifyingly true. Because never before has the lifeless body on the medical examiner’s table been her own.
Yet there can be no denying the mind-reeling evidence before her shocked eyes and those of her colleagues, including Detective Jane Rizzoli: the woman found shot to death outside Maura’s home is the mirror image of Maura, down to the most intimate physical nuances. Even more chilling is the discovery that they share the same birth date and blood type. For the stunned Maura, an only child, there can be just one explanation. And when a DNA test confirms that Maura’s mysterious doppelgänger is in fact her twin sister, an already bizarre murder investigation becomes a disturbing and dangerous excursion into a past full of dark secrets.
Searching for answers, Maura is drawn to a seaside town in Maine where other horrifying surprises await. But perhaps more frightening, an unknown murderer is at large on a cross-country killing spree. To stop the massacre and uncover the twisted truth about her own roots, Maura must probe her first living subject: the mother that she never knew . . . an icy and cunning woman who could be responsible for giving Maura life–and who just may have a plan to take it away.

This is the first book in the series where the reader really gets a closer look at Maura Isles.  The character from the novels is incredibly different from the character on the television show, but she is definitely my favorite character in both.  So, needless to say, I was ecstatic to see that the book started out from the POV of Isles.

Besides loving this book for being Isles-centric, disturbing, and, well, full of everything that I’ve come to love about Gerritsen’s novels, this book felt even more “Girl Power-y” to me than the preceding novels.  Specifically, there is a lot of focus on motherhood and the question of what makes a mother.  Is it merely passing your genes onto a child?  Is it the fact that you carry a child in your womb for 9 months?  Or is it the instinct to protect your child at any and all costs?

There were times that I choked up while reading this novel and there were many times that I wanted to cheer for the feminine strength being displayed by each of the characters.

I very much look forward to the next installment in the series!

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Filed under Favorites, Series, Tess Gerritsen, Women Writers

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Title: Defending Jacob
Author: William Landay
Length: 432 pages
Loved it! And full of surprises… I think!

I love that my co-workers recommend such great novels/authors!  I borrowed this book from a woman at work after we got into discussing what kind of novels we liked to read.  She thought that I would really enjoy Defending Jacob by William Landay.  She was correct!

Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him.  Andy must. He’s his father.  But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.

Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis—a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spin out of control.

Like one of my other favorites, Rizzoli & Isles, this mystery takes place in Massachusetts.  While I enjoy reading books set in other American towns, other countries, or even fictional and fantastical worlds, there is something special about reading a novel set in towns that you’re familiar with.  Major scenes occur on roads that I’ve driven down or in parks that I’ve walked through and it sends a real chill down my spine.  In this novel, however, there are countless instances where a very real chill is sent down your spine and it truly has nothing to do with location.

The story of Jacob is told from the POV of his father, but enough evidence is presented to allow the reader the opportunity to make their own judgment on whether or not Jacob is guilty.  I won’t say what opinion I came to and, really, it’s almost irrelevant.  At times, it appears as though the main story on display in the disintegration of the family under the stress and publicity surrounding the case.  Whether or not you find the boy guilty, it’s hard to not feel some remorse for everything that they’re going through.  And this is even a slightly uncomfortable situation to be in – especially if you think that he did it.

There is a really amazing twist in here, as well.  I assumed that I had this book all figured out, but I was very, very wrong.  Landay does an excellent job of fully showcasing the emotions, thoughts, and pain that the father experiences.  Despite my not being a parent myself, I was extremely touched and could almost feel the emptiness that Andy felt.

This is one of those books that will stay with you for a while.  So, if you’re not in the mood to carry something heavy around with you for a few days, you might not want to take this book on.

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The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

 

Title:  The Redbreast
Author: Jo Nesbo
Length: 521 pages
LOVED IT!

I am a huge fan of the Stieg Larsson novels but was a little late to the party on those and incredibly upset to discover that Stieg Larsson passed away.  I have a terrible tendency to become really enthusiastic about authors who are no longer alive and, unlike some popular musical artists, cannot produce anymore work postmortem.

Luckily for me, however, Larsson’s novels are loved by millions and my local library seized his popularity and created a list of OTHER Norwegian crime writers that Larsson’s fans might enjoy.  A co-worker recommended Nesbo to me a while ago – specifically, The Snowman.  At the time, I possessed a very long “to-read” list and threw it somewhere near the bottom.  When I saw his name show up on the library’s recommended authors list, though, I knew that it was time to do a little research.

I like to start a series from the beginning.  Even if you don’t necessarily need to read all of the preceding novels to understand what’s going on, I’m a girl who likes to follow the characters and plot from the very beginning.  Unfortunately for Americans, the available translations begin with the 3rd installment, The Redbreast.  The pictured cover isn’t the edition that I received from the library.  This is what I had:

As previously stated, I do judge a book by its cover and this won me over immediately.  Unlike with some other novels that I’ve recently read, I did fill myself in on the plot:

Detective Harry Hole embarrassed the force, and for his sins he’s been reassigned to mundane surveillance tasks. But while monitoring neo-Nazi activities in Oslo, Hole is inadvertently drawn into a mystery with deep roots in Norway’s dark past, when members of the government willingly collaborated with Nazi Germany. More than sixty years later, this black mark won’t wash away—and disgraced old soldiers who once survived a brutal Russian winter are being murdered, one by one. Now, with only a stained and guilty conscience to guide him, an angry, alcoholic, error-prone policeman must make his way safely past the traps and mirrors of a twisted criminal mind. For a conspiracy is taking rapid and hideous shape around Hole . . . and Norway’s darkest hour may be still to come.

So, not only do I get a Scandinavian crime novel but there are also some time-ins to WWII?  And the main character is named Harry Hole?  Whoa.  Sign me up.

I enjoyed the format of the novel – each chapter is a different date and location.  Nesbo hops around from present to past and, if I hadn’t read the summary of the novel, I probably would have been completely lost for the first 50 pages or so.  And, while reading, I was dragged through the gamut of emotions – humor, distress, sadness, frustration, and happiness.

Don’t expect to read something that is literally just like the Millennium Series.  I found that the parallels are mainly found in the fact that both authors touch upon politics in their novels and they take place in the same region of Europe.  Nesbo is worth reading for his own talent and shouldn’t really be compared to Larsson in this regard.  I look forward to reading the rest of his novels and seeing where they take our beloved Harry Hole.

 

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Filed under Jo Nesbo, Mystery, Series

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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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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Filed under Books, Mystery, Women Writers

Cat Map – Cats in Libraries

Cats and books (and book lovers!) have always just… gone together.  How many times have you read a book with a cat nestled on your lap? Or your chest? Or, more likely, on the book?  Kitties are the perfect reading companions – most definitely in the winter – and seem to even regularly find themselves in small bookshops and local libraries.

If, like me, you’re fascinated by these cats and love following them around the shop just as much as you enjoy browsing the merchandise, you might like to know WHERE you can find these cats.  Iron Frog Productions has a website dedicated entirely to showing you where these cats are (and have been historically) around the world in their Library Cats Map!

The map is easy to browse by country and state (for those of us here in the US).  Check it out and see if there are any near you!

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No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Title:  No Country for Old Men
Author:  Cormac McCarthy
Length:  320 pages
HIGHLY RECOMMEND

Another library book!  I’m on a roll with utilizing my local library.  I watched No Country for Old Men about a year ago.  I loved it.  I watched it immediately after reading and watching The Road by the same author.  I had a fever for McCarthy novels.

I won’t lie to you, however – I tried reading Blood Meridian and couldn’t get past the first chapter.  I really need to amp my brain up before I dive into that novel – and the reasons for my difficulty getting into that novel are the same as my reasons for being so totally in love with The Road and No Country for Old Men.

But, first, a synopsis of No Country for Old Men:

Set in our own time along the bloody frontier between Texas and Mexico, this is Cormac McCarthy’s first novel since Cities of the Plain completed his acclaimed, best-selling Border Trilogy.

Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, instead finds men shot dead, a load of heroin, and more than $2 million in cash. Packing the money out, he knows, will change everything. But only after two more men are murdered does a victim’s burning car lead Sheriff Bell to the carnage out in the desert, and he soon realizes how desperately Moss and his young wife need protection. One party in the failed transaction hires an ex–Special Forces officer to defend his interests against a mesmerizing freelancer, while on either side are men accustomed to spectacular violence and mayhem. The pursuit stretches up and down and across the border, each participant seemingly determined to answer what one asks another: how does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?

A harrowing story of a war that society is waging on itself, and an enduring meditation on the ties of love and blood and duty that inform lives and shape destinies, No Country for Old Men is a novel of extraordinary resonance and power.

I can attest that the book is as gritty, dark, and powerful as the above description leads one to believe.  It’s probably a good policy to not pick up any of McCarthy’s novels when you’re in search of something light, love-y, or something that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy in your heart.  If you do, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

The narrative hops around between the characters – the good guys, the bad guys, and the “??” guys.  McCarthy, as always, sticks true to the vernacular of the characters, which is both refreshing and a challenge.  On more than one occasion, I had to re-read a paragraph two or three times or take a step back at the beginning of a chapter to figure out who the pronouns referred back to.  There are cuts, shifts in narrative, and please leave your love of quotation marks at the door…  this is truly a unique and challenging read.  And I love, love, love McCarthy for it.

The reader doesn’t have a front row seat to all of the action, but we’re made aware of what happens.  Even if it isn’t exactly what we expect (or want) to happen.  The chaos that plays out in the lives of the characters in the book serve as a nice parallel for the chaos that ensues in the world around us, every single day, start to finish.  I won’t lie – the character of Sheriff Bell voices some of my own thoughts, concerns, and fears about society on more than one occasion.

So, in parting:

I read in the papers here a while back some teachers came across a survey that was sent out back in the thirties to a number of schools around the country. Had this questionnaire about what was the problems with teachin in the schools. And they come across these forms, they’d been filled out and sent in from around the country answerin these questions. And the biggest problems they could name was things like talkin in class and runnin in the hallways. Chewin gum. Copyin homework. Things of that nature. So they got one of them forms that was blank and printed up a bunch of em and sent em back out to the same schools. Forty years later. Well, here come the answers back. Rape, arson, murder. Drugs. Suicide. So think about that. Because a lot of the time when I say anything about how the world is goin to hell in a handbasket people will just sort of smile and tell me I’m gettin old. That it’s one of the symptoms. But my feelin about that is that anybody that cant tell the difference between rapin and murderin people and chewin gum has got a whole lot bigger of a problem than what I’ve got. Forty years is not a long time neither. Maybe the next forty of it will bring some of em out from under the ether. If it aint too late.

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Filed under American Author, Cormac McCarthy, Fiction

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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Filed under Abram's Daughters, Beverly Lewis, Books, Fiction, Series, Women Writers