Spinster

Spinster: Making a Life of One's OwnSpinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fascinating look at the lives of single women over the last 150 years or so, through the eyes of a young journalist coming to terms with the by now outdated expectation that women must be married to lead happy and fulfilling lives. She also writes about the lives of 5 other women writers who served as her role models. I think there is much more that could be said about this topic, since she looks mostly at women who did not want to marry and have families (some of them did anyway) and made choices that fostered their independence. To me, a spinster is someone not independent by choice, and who has not come to terms with their unmarried and unloved state. A spinster, to me, has neither husband nor boyfriend nor female partner. She throws all single women, divorced, widowed, and otherwise into the spinster category. So I was kind of expecting something else from this book, but judged on what it is, she writes well and it did make me think from time to time.

Book description: “Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence.” So begins Spinster, a revelatory and slyly erudite look at the pleasures and possibilities of remaining single. Using her own experiences as a starting point, journalist and cultural critic Kate Bolick invites us into her carefully considered, passionately lived life, weaving together the past and present to examine why­ she—along with over 100 million American women, whose ranks keep growing—remains unmarried.

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The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a hard book to describe. It is not exactly historical fiction although it is set mostly in the 1920s. The geographical setting is very well described, but it could almost take place in any time frame. Tom is a survivor of World War I, but it could be any war. Nor would I call this a suspense thriller as it has been labeled. It is more of a domestic fiction – people make choices and choices have consequences. You could call it a love story, but it’s not a romance. So let’s call it a study of flawed characters and an emotional ride. You want to give them advice, but of course, you can’t. You can only watch helplessly as they make heartbreaking choices. The ending is probably realistic, but there were so many other ways it could have turned out. This will make a good movie. It needs proper costuming to make this a historical drama. 3 1/2 stars that I am rounding up to 4.

Book description: After the horror of World War I, Tom Sherbourne welcomes his new job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, an isolated island with no residents aside from him and his wife Isabel. But times on the island are tough for Isabel as she suffers multiple miscarriages and a stillbirth in just four years time. When a boat with a dead man and a young baby washes ashore, Isabel convinces Tom to let her keep the baby as their own, but the consequences to her actions may be dire.

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good: The New Mitford NovelSomewhere Safe with Somebody Good: The New Mitford Novel by Jan Karon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m giving this 4 stars, but only because it’s an opportunity to revisit a beloved place, and old familiar characters. If you haven’t read the other Mitford novels, you may want to start at the beginning. This book is a bit rambling and doesn’t really go anywhere in particular. No crises to overcome, no dramatic conversions, no big miracles – just catching up with our characters as they get on with life in a small town, where people DO take care of each other, and where prayer is the solution to everything. This is Mayberry RFD for the 21st century. I especially enjoyed the thread of Father Tim working at the bookstore. Not all is resolved in the end, so I’m sure there will be more books to come.

Book description: After five hectic years of retirement from Lord’s Chapel, Father Tim Kavanagh returns with his wife, Cynthia, from a so-called pleasure trip to the land of his Irish ancestors. While glad to be at home in Mitford, something is definitely missing: a pulpit. But when he’s offered one, he decides he doesn’t want it. Maybe he’s lost his passion. His adopted son, Dooley, wrestles with his own passion—for the beautiful and gifted Lace Turner, and his vision to become a successful country vet. Dooley’s brother, Sammy, still enraged by his mother’s abandonment, destroys one of Father Tim’s prized possessions. And Hope Murphy, owner of Happy Endings bookstore, struggles with the potential loss of her unborn child and her hard-won business. All this as Wanda’s Feel Good Café opens, a romance catches fire through an Internet word game, their former mayor hatches a reelection campaign to throw the bums out, and the weekly Muse poses a probing inquiry: Does Mitford still take care of its own?

Plague Land

Plague LandPlague Land by S.D. Sykes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Setting: England, Kent, Somershill (fictional manor and rural village)
Time: 1350, two years after the plague has ravaged the country killing half the population.

Chapter One: “It was a hot summer’s morning in June of this year when I first saw them – advancing towards Somershill like a band of ragged players. I would tell you they were a mob, except their numbers were so depleted that a gaggle would be a better description. And I would tell you I knew their purpose in coming here, but I had taken to hiding in the manor house and keeping my nose in a book. At their head was John of Cornwall, a humourless clenched-fist of a man, whose recent appointment to parish priest rested purely upon his still being alive.”

Criticized for being too modern in tone, it was a style that worked for me. It gave a breezy, humorous counterbalance to the dark and macabre time period. Oswald is an anomaly in his time – an atheist and rational thinker with a tendency towards what today would be Zen Buddhism. As the author pointed out in a historical note “there is evidence of unbelief from those times – though it is difficult to gauge the true extent of this, as you were likely to have kept any scepticism to yourself. But even if doubts were rare, impiety certainly was not.” It worked for me, and I think actually makes the Middle Ages perhaps a little more accessible to modern readers. The historical details were otherwise spot on, with all the filth, superstition, and brutality. The black humor and over-the-top characters made me think of a television sit-com. I think it would translate very well to film or television. The mystery was satisfying, even if Oswald seems a bit slow at times, with a nice twist at the end. I definitely look forward to more in the series.

Book description: Oswald de Lacy was never meant to be the Lord of Somershill Manor. Despatched to a monastery at the age of seven, sent back at seventeen when his father and two older brothers are killed by the Plague, Oswald has no experience of running an estate. He finds the years of pestilence and neglect have changed the old place dramatically, not to mention the attitude of the surviving peasants. Yet some things never change. Oswald’s mother remains the powerful matriarch of the family, and his sister Clemence simmers in the background, dangerous and unmarried. Before he can do anything, Oswald is confronted by the shocking death of a young woman, Alison Starvecrow. The ambitious village priest claims that Alison was killed by a band of demonic dog-headed men. Oswald is certain this is nonsense, but proving it—by finding the real murderer—is quite a different matter. Every step he takes seems to lead Oswald deeper into a dark maze of political intrigue, family secrets and violent strife.