Tag 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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Joyce Carol Oates, Women Writers

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

1 Comment

Filed under Joyce Carol Oates, Quotes, Women Writers

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:

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Mystery, Women Writers

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.

1 Comment

Filed under American Author, American Poetry, Quotes, Sylvia Plath, Women Writers

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.

Leave a comment

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

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Non-Fiction, Women Writers

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Quotes, Sylvia Plath, Women Writers

Alice Walker reads “You Confide in Me”

This is a lot of fun.  You have to love Alice Walker.

Enjoy!

Leave a comment

Filed under Alice Walker, American Poetry, Poetry, Women Writers

Katharine of Aragon (trilogy) by Jean Plaidy

Titles:  Katharine, The Virgin Widow; The Shadow of the Pomegranate; The King’s Secret Matter
 
Author:  Jean Plaidy
Length: 643 pages (all three books in one volume)
Highly Enjoyable!

As I have mentioned many times (most recently, perhaps, right before my vacation?), I am enthusiastic about Tudors history – both fictional and real, actual history.  To further feed this obsession, I scoured GoodReads for any and all books that I could find.  Not too far into my search, not surprisingly, I came across Jean Plaidy’s name and the seemingly never-ending list of titles.

The books that I wanted to start with are the three about Katharine of Aragon – Spanish Princess, English Queen, and the first lady unlucky enough to NOT provide Henry the VIII with a strapping young son.  While I know that the Showtime series isn’t the most historically accurate account out there, I was drawn to their portrayal of her and immediately felt some warmth towards her personality and story.  While I have yet to read an actual biography about her, the fictional accounts of her that I’ve encountered so far (The Other Boleyn Girl and these books by Jean Plaidy) paint her in a similar way to the show, leading me to believe that she truly was a kind-hearted, spiritual woman who commanded respect and honor.

Reading Plaidy’s novels felt like I was reading closer to an actual historical account of the happenings in the Tudor court than when reading The Other Boleyn Girl.  Because of this, while still enjoyable, it took a little longer to get through them.  There is a fair amount of dialogue and action, however, and the keeps the books an entertaining read.  And while the story is undoubtedly focused on Katharine of Aragon, she doesn’t hold back from sharing a glimpse into what King Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, and the rest of the major players are up to, thinking, or plotting.

The version that I purchased (published by Three Rivers Press, featuring an awesome reading guide/questions) is the only version to contain the entire trilogy covering Queen Katharine’s story from her arrival in England from Spain in 1501 (to marry the young and sickly Prince Arthur) until her own heart breaking death on January 7th, 1536.  Let’s take a closer look at the three individual books in this volume….

Katharine, The Virgin Widow

IN THE ROYAL MARRIAGE MARKET 
THE INFANTA OF SPAIN WAS A TRUE PRIZE.

In the eyes of the world, Katharine of Aragon was a precious object to be disposed of for the glory of Spain. Her parents, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, send her to England to become the bride of Arthur, Prince of Wales.
But soon her frail husband was dead, and a fateful question loomed: Was the marriage consummated, as Katharine’s priest avowed, or was the young widow still a virgin? On that delicate point hinged Katharine’s–and England’s–future. Meanwhile, waiting in the wings was her willful, handsome brother-in-law, bold Prince Henry, who alone had the power to restore Katharine’s lost position.

Jean Plaidy’s narrative genius sparkles in this story of a remarkable royal marriage that inspired some of history’s bloodiest deeds . . . 

I struggled slightly to get into the first book, but, really, only because I needed to adjust to the third person narrative (I’m a sucker for first person…).  The story begins with an introduction to the children of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York during a horrific scene in which the king’s best dogs fight lions to the death.  This scene, in all its gruesome detail, sets the reader up for the plight of anyone else’s wish (or bravery) placed against that of a king’s.  When the dogs win, they still lose because they dared stand up against the king of all animals.  It’s important for all to know, and heed, their place in the social order.

At the beginning of the stories, the children are awaiting (quite eagerly) the arrival of the Infanta from Spain – a young girl born from the honorable Queen Isabella and her consort, Ferdinand.  Briefly, upon arrival (and after settling in), Katharine grows accustomed to the young prince she is set to marry.  He’s kind, shy, faithful, and does not appear to have a cruel bone in his body.  Everything changes when he dies during an outbreak of the sweating disease, however.  This is when Katharine enters into the first troublesome period of her life.  Forced into living without any allowance, she stays in a house with her ladies in waiting and servants, unable to pay them and unable to leave to return to Spain.  Her future is full of uncertainty and relies upon the whims of a fickle and greedy King.

The novel ends with her marriage to King Henry VIII – as he apparently loves to go against the advice and demands of anyone else – for why should he listen to them? HE is the King of England.  In the final scenes of Katharine, the Virgin Widow it appears as though her fortune has changed and happier days lie ahead.  Little does she know…

 The Shadow of the Pomegranate

The marriage of Katharine of Aragon and King Henry VIII was a match made in heaven. But hardly were they wed when powerful people in Henry’s court started spinning webs of intrigue around the innocent royal pair.

King Henry VIII is still a young man.  He loves games, dressing up, and proving to his people that he loves them.  Some of actions seem brazen while all of actions seem highly juvenile.  Above all else, though, he yearns to have a son and is confidant that he and Queen Katharine will produce many.  Only time will tell, though, as their first child born is, in fact, a son, but dies only after a very short time of being alive.

As we all know now, they never have a son.  Instead they have a healthy, intelligent, and highly talented daughter Mary.  If only she were born a boy… is a thought that is repeated throughout this book.  Katharine, alone, seems to be able to find the tenderness in his eyes and is willing to see him with a greater filter of warmth than most others might be willing to.  Perhaps even greater to her love for him, however, she adores her daughter and is devoted to protecting her interests.

The second book also brings the rise of Cardinal Wolsey, who acts as a major influence in directing the course of the king’s life – all with the intent of progressing his own interests..  The second book also brings an increase in the tumult that is King Henry VIII’s moods.  His rage flares up and, once aggravated, seems to know no bounds.  The longer he goes without a son, or, as he sees it, a legitimate heir to the throne, the angrier and less reasonable he becomes.

By the end of the The Shadow of the Pomegranate (which, by the way, is Katharine’s symbol, which is representative of fertility – cruel irony) with the King’s infidelity becoming public knowledge and an accepted fact of how things are going to be.  Bessie Blount, his favored mistress in the court, produces him with a son, whom he names Henry Fitzroy.  The affair and child are both flaunted in front of Katharine, but she maintains composure and finds solace in the fact that she is the Queen of England, beloved of the people.

 The King’s Secret Matter

The personalities and intrigues of the English royal court are brought to vivid life in this tale of Katharine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII. The twelve-year marriage of Henry and Katharine has declined from an idyllic union into an uneasy stalemate. The king’s love for his aging queen has grown cold, and he is angry with her failure to give him the heir to the throne he desperately wants. When the seductive Anne Boleyn arrives at court, the king is captivated by her dark beauty and bold spirit, and becomes obsessed with his desire to possess her. With his chief advisor, Cardinal Wolsey, the king devises a secret plot to declare the marriage with Katharine null and void. But Katharine refuses to surrender to his wishes and fights desperately to retain her title and safeguard her daughter, Mary. The ensuing power struggle is one of the turning points in English history, and these pages capture it in spellbinding detail.

We can all guess what happens in the third book,  The King’s Secret Matter, can’t we?  The state of Katharine’s life is in rapid decline.  The king barely visits her.  Her nephew, the emperor, constantly breaks promises with King Henry VIII, thus, creating a distaste for all thing Spanish in his eyes – his wife being one of those “things”.  There are countless women in court who jump at the chance to sleep with the King and he is more than happy to make their wildest dreams come true.

And, as in any royal story, people are unceasingly plotting, planning, and seeking ways to further their own interests, at no matter what cost to others.  Unfortunately, for Queen Katharine, there aren’t many in the court able to fight for her interests since her interests are contrary to the King’s.  And, in this book, he does not shy away from sending “traitors” to the chopping block.  By the final page, we have bid adieu to the majority of the original players and are faced with a new set taking center stage.  And at the very center of that stage is Anne Boleyn (or, as it appears the people of England call her, Nan Bullen).

Katharine, once a woman to know all of the comforts and honors of a Queen, dies in a dank, lonesome building, far away from her daughter, Mary.  Throughout all of her protestations against the King’s cry that their marriage was never valid, she cared most about preserving her daughter’s  honor, dignity, and name.

These books increased my admiration and love for Katharine of Aragon.  They also made me feel even more excited to learn more about this period of English history.  Additionally, I will also read more of Jean Plaidy’s novels.  Her writing is clean and leaves you feeling like you actually, possibly, learned something.

Are you interested in the Tudors?  Which authors do you prefer?

Leave a comment

Filed under Favorites, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Series, Tudors, Women Writers

Books as Souvenirs

As you may or may not know/remember, I recently went on vacation.  One of the many exciting things to do on vacation is acquire some stuff that you probably don’t need, but that you swear will always remind you of your trip.  Well, I would like to say, that people ALWAYS need books and what better way to remember and commemorate your time somewhere than with a geographically appropriate book?

Luckily, there were many options for me to sift through in the Death Valley and Eastern Sierra gift shops that we wound up in.  I didn’t wind up with anything too scientific (there were plenty on the night sky or rocks of Death Valley), but I wound up with two of the best titles for me…

Title:  Soiled Doves
Author:  Anne Seagraves
Published by WESANNE PUBLICATIONS

Soiled Doves – Prostitution in the Early West is about… well… prostitution and the women who were prostitutes in the early West.  I haven’t read anything past the introduction yet, but the first page sucked me in with its very brief, very surface-only glimpse at the history of prostitution.  The first time that I saw this book, we were in a very family oriented gift shop and I was just kind of shocked, amazed, and delighted by its existence.  I didn’t jump the gun and fork over the $12.95 that night, however.  No, no… I had to let the idea of it stew.  For days.  In the desert heat.

On our final day there, however, I knew that I had to have it.  En route to Las Vegas, we stopped back into the gift shop and I picked it up.  Fortunately for me, they hadn’t sold out of it yet.  With that said, this will probably be one of my next reads, so keep a lookout for my review and thoughts on here in the next few weeks.

SOILED DOVES tells of the grey world of prostitution and the women who participated in the oldest profession.  Colorful, if not socially acceptable, these ladies of easy virtue were a definite part of the early West – wearing ruffled petticoats with fancy bows, they were glamorous and plain, good and bad and many were as wild as the land they came to tame.

Women like “Molly b’Dam,” Mattie Silks, and “Chicago Joe” blended into the fabric of the American Frontier with an easy familiarity.  Others, such as “Sorrel Mike,” escaped through suicide, Lottie Johl chose marriage and the Chinese slave girls lived a life without hope.

Title: Kiyo’s Story
Author: Kiyo Sato
Published by Soho Press, Inc.

The other book that I picked up was purchased at the gift shop located in the Manzanar National Historic Site, which is a historic site of a Japanese Interment Camp from the WWII era.  We found out towards the end of our trip that this Site was nearby (about an hour drive from where we were staying) and I knew, immediately, that I had to get there.  Over the past year, I’ve read a few titles about the Japanese Internment Camps (something that I wasn’t 100% aware of previously) and it was incredibly important for me to get there.

The stories and information available at Manzanar is moving, maddening, inspiring, and eye-opening.  Their gift shop contains many titles for further reading (including plenty for children and teenagers), but I really wanted a memoir.  Kiyo’s Story popped out of me, first and foremost, because I liked the design of the book.  Upon closer inspection, I realized that this is really the best book for me to read.  Again, I’ll be reading this one sometime over the next few weeks, so keep a lookout for my review.

Kiyo’s father arrived in California determined to plant his roots in the land of opportunity after leaving Japan.  He, his wife, and their nine American-born children labored in the fields together, building a successful farm.  But at the outbreak of the World War II, Kiyo’s family was ordered to Poston Internment Camp.

Throughout their trials, the family pulled together to survive.  Kiyo managed to work her way through college; her brothers served in the army.  After the war they returned to a ruined farm and a despoiled house.  They began again.

 

Have you ever picked up a book as a souvenir?

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Women Writers