2019—Fifty Books

Book Number 10

The Bookshop of Yesterdays

by

Amy Meyerson

This debut novel started with a great premise. Miranda Brooks returns to California for the funeral of her uncle whom she hasn’t seen since she was twelve. She learns that she has inherited his bookstore, Prospero Books, and is led on one final scavenger hunt to uncover family secrets.

I enjoyed the literary references, the atmosphere of the financially strapped bookstore, and many of the characters. Meyerson’s writing is nice—good vocabulary, smooth sentences, fairly realistic dialogue, strong emotion. Her technique is unusual with many flashbacks interpreted by the main character in different ways. It was a bit tricky with part direct dialogue, part italicized, part narrative, all from various points of view.


The big secret wasn’t hard to figure out (even for me. I rarely put together all the clues before the protagonist does.) And once I knew what Uncle Billy was leading Miranda to discover, I felt parts of the plot were belabored. I also found some of it unrealistic and hard to buy.

Miranda’s relationship with her boyfriend sounded real and the outcome was not surprising or disappointing. Her relationship with her mother was less so. Without disclosing the dilemma, I felt that Miranda’s mother acted unreasonably and Miranda’s reaction, also unreasonable, was too intense. Perhaps if the author had not gone on too long, I would have found their flaws easier to accept.

It takes some time to get to the ending. Meyerson could have moved things along faster once Miranda learns the big secret. The final chapter is like a prologue where all’s well that end’s well (can’t resist a Shakespearean reference since the book contained many!)

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2019—Fifty Books

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1)

Book Number 9

Anne of Green Gables

by

L. M. Montgomery

Early in the twentieth century, Anne arrives at Green Gables with hopes of having found a home and family. Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, elderly brother and sister, had expected a boy to help with the farm and decide to send Anne back to the orphanage. Matthew persuades Marilla to let Anne stay and agrees to give her the full responsibility of raising the child. This is a challenge for both Marilla and Anne.

A review in the New York Times at the time the book was published said: The author’s probable intention was to exhibit a unique development in this little asylum waif, but there is no real difference between the girl at the end of the story and the one at the beginning of it.”

Anne is talkative, optimistic, impulsive, and emotional. She makes mistakes, She loves nature. She hates her red hair. She is competitive and not above holding a grudge. She is a loyal friend. She wears her feelings on her sleeve and those feelings are always intense. She is not sad, she suffers in agony. She isn’t happy, she is joyous. She delights in everything to the fullest. And she is deeply repentant when she does something wrong. Anne credits her optimism and ability to perservere in adversity to her ability to imagine. And what an imagination she has! Although Anne matures over the course of the book, her spirited enthusiasm and caring nature never change. In her own words, “I’m not a bit changed—not really. I’m only just pruned down and branched out.”

What the NYTimes failed to note: everyone around Anne is changed by knowing her.

There is much to commend this story. The descriptions of nature are beautiful, the characters are interesting, the story is entertaining, and Anne is funny without meaning to be.

I’m happy to have met Anne of Green Gables.

2019—Fifty Books

Girl Waits with Gun (A Kopp Sisters Novel)

Book Number 8

Girl Waits with Gun

by

Amy Stewart

Girl Waits with Gun is a historical novel based on true events. In 1914, a recklessly driven automobile runs into the horse and buggy of sisters, Constance, Norma, and Fleurette Kopp. Unaware who she is dealing with, indignant Constance demands payment for damages. Soon the women are embroiled in a dangerous situation with a small-time mob boss threatening their lives.

This book is filled with humor as strong women strive for their independence. It is a story ripped from the headlines. Ms. Stewart relied on newspaper articles as the basis of her story. Throughout, newspapers are the major source of information, opinion, speculation, sensation, and gossip—the Facebook of 1914.

Ms. Stewart weaves an entertaining tale which kept me laughing and feeling compassion for the heroines. Her portrayal of life in 1914, especially male roles vs female roles, feels accurate. And I enjoyed the slightly off-kilter characters.

The real Constance Kopp became the first female deputy sheriff. Amy Stewart has written several books with Constance Copp, Deputy Sheriff, solving crimes. Although based on a real-life character, I don’t think the stories are taken from actual events Constance was involvd in. They are rather, a look at life in 1914 from the perspective of an incredible woman.

50 BOOKS—2019

Book Number 7:

Cutwork

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by

Monica Ferris

This cozy mystery takes place in a lakeshore town in Minnesota where Betsy owns a needlework shop. Betsy is volunteering at a local art fair when one of the artisans, an up-and-coming woodworker, is murdered.

This is one of a multi-book series, Needlecraft Mysteries. Ms. Ferris includes a great deal of detail in her stories. I found the physical descriptions of even minor characters were sometimes unnecessary but the author does a good job of developing their personalities.

There is a lot about needlework which was well researched and written, but I found it bogged the story down (as did the descriptions of people doing mundane things like having a meal, going about daily work, and so forth.) The inner workings of the art world interested me much more but people who are more interested in needlework would probably find those portions of the book slow. All of it is informative.

I found the actual sleuthing part of the plot a bit weak. Betsy doesn’t do much seeking of answers until near the end of the book. Instead, she starts surmising things based on what little information others bring to her. The author dropped a few hints here and there, but not so many as to make me suspicious of several characters. I don’t generally figure out who the villain is so I was surprised when my (and Betsy’s) prime suspect actually turned out to be the guilty party. However, his motivation was surprising although the hints were there.

Strong points of the story: the interesting characters, the setting, the information about art and artists

Weak points: too much emphasis on providing a physical description of everyone, too much concentration on mundane details of setting and everyday life of characters, not enough suspects and “red herrings.”

I think most people who like light mystery and needlepoint will enjoy this book.

2019—50 BOOKS

Book Number 6

Animal Farm

by

George Orwell

Animal Farm is a classic allegory (Orwell calls it a Fairy Tale) first published in 1946. Events and characters often parallel the Russian Revolution and the rise of communism, but it relates well to socio/political events throughout history and today.

The writing style is simple, straightforward, and entertaining. Its simplicity, honesty, and characterization of the animals are, to me, reminiscent of E. B. White’s classics, Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. But this is a far darker tale with a dire warning.

The animals on Manor Farm are poorly treated by Farmer Jones. They are overworked, underfed, and regarded as disposable. The pig, Old Major, inspires them to rebellion and to establish their own farm where every animal is equal and all work together for the common good.

It soon becomes evident that the animals each possess different temperaments, intelligence, and skills. The story reveals how they are manipulated by propaganda, false promises, and distortion of facts. After expelling Mr. Jones, the animal’s fear of his return is continuously played upon to force them to comply with the requirements of the new “leaders.”

This tale should serve as a warning about the abuses of power: the use of slogans and ceremonies to promote a false patriotism, the biased fake news reports, the stirring of emotion by declaring specific targets as enemies to be hated and obliterated, the spread of rumor to discredit others and to give false credit to those in power, the erasing or altering of history, the use of religion or other promises to appease the masses, creating diversions to distract notice of what is really happening, the “behind the scenes” politicking and collusion which only benefits those in power, and the disregard for the lower classes.

Animal Farm is an amazing book that sparks the imagination and awareness of the reader. If you read it long ago, or not at all, it is worth your time to discover this book and what it means today.

2019—50 BOOKS

Book Number 5:

Hazards of Time Travel

by

Joyce Carol Oates

This is a new genre for Joyce Carol Oates—dystopian literature.

It’s 23 years after the events of 9/11 and a new government has been formed from the paranoia and conflict following that fateful day. The citizens are classified by gender, ethnicity, intelligence, and other factors. Discrimination is encouraged. A young girl violates the rules by posing too many questions and she is sent back to 1959 where she is assigned as a college student in rural Wisconsin.

Mary Ellen (as she is now named) has difficulty adapting to her new life, primarily because she misses her family and is fearful and suspicious of everyone. She believes she is being constantly monitored and trusts no one. Eventually, she falls for her professor and believes he is also an Exile.

What follows of their relationship is somewhat interesting, but very bogged down by Mary Ellen’s thoughts. We all know that teens’ perspectives can be egocentric, that they suffer from angst, that they fantasize about romance, that they act out, but Ms. Oates belabors these points and the story drags. There is also an excess of detail about Skinnerian psychology which doesn’t move or explain the story.

I barely scanned the last third of the book and didn’t care for the ending, although Ms. Oates often writes endings that could be likely but are not necessarily hopeful.

I enjoyed the portrayal of middle America collegiate life in 1959 and thought it accurate. Here again, there was too much emphasis on the typewriter. It was easy to get the idea that technology in 1959 was primitive when compared to 30 years in our future. We didn’t need reminders. And, sorry, I thought it was funny when Mary Ellen is suddenly adept at ironing men’s shirts after having viewed a couple of television commercials portraying fifties housewives. I don’t think the scene was meant to be comedic, but for me it was.

Joyce Carol Oates is a good writer, but this was not a book I would recommend.

2019—50 BOOKS

Book Number 4

a spark of light

by

Jodi Picoult

The novel begins with a shooting and hostage situation at a women’s reproductive health clinic and follows the stories of a number of people affected by it.

Jodi Picoult employs an unusual technique in this novel. She tells the story from end to beginning. I found this gimmicky, confusing, and repetitive. It might have worked if there hadn’t been so many characters with so much backstory, all given out in very small chunks. Or the author could have put that dramatic scene at the beginning, as she has, (apparently most readers want action! and drama! at the very beginning instead of letting a story build) and then gone back to the beginning to introduce all the characters and tell their stories.

Jodie Picoult presents life stories of all the characters so that we can understand their experience and viewpoint on abortion. She tries to present as many scenarios as one might imagine. For accuracy, she based the stories on personal interviews. Reasons cited for unplanned pregnancy are rape, failed contraceptives, poverty, abnormal development of the embryo.

Everyone in the story has a background and a motive for their beliefs and actions and Jodi Picoult tells it all, sometimes laboriously (no pun intended) and repetitively. I found all the background too much and, in some cases, predictable and far-fetched. It felt like Ms. Picoult tried too hard to present too many social issues in one story.

I had seen the author on a television interview and it was stated that she gave a balanced perspective on the abortion issue without taking sides. I know she tried, but it didn’t seem as balanced as she hoped. Still, there was room for each side to agree with at least one of the character’s views.

This is a difficult topic and the author did a good job of providing factual details. If she had used a more straightforward way of telling the story and had done a better job of getting me to relate to the characters I would have enjoyed the book more.

I know, I know, Jodi Picoult has many diehard fans who will love this book. I’ve enjoyed some of her books and have found others lacking in reality. This falls somewhere in between.