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Short Reviews Roundup

June 7, 2011

I read these, and I owe them a longer review than I gave them in my Book List For The Year. I’m sheepish that I read some of these in April. Yikes. Catching up.

The Bonus– Georgia Lowe. Set in 1932, after The Great War. America’s in the Depression. American veterans, some scarred and traumatized by their war experience, have been promised a bonus by the U.S. government. Promised, but never actually given the money they desperately need. As they march on Washington, this novel focuses on Will Hardy, a veteran turned reporter covering the march. Although I must have studied the Bonus March in AP U.S. History, I didn’t remember it, and appreciated the story teaching me about this period in history, through the characters.
Although the first few chapters of the story felt slow to start, and a little dry in the balance between historical background and character development, I got into the story as it progressed. I know the story is based on stories Lowe’s parents’ told, as well as historical accounts. I have to wonder whether the family connection was what held the initial chapters of the story back.

Another good one to read if you like historical fiction + romance: Nothing But A Smile, which is based on World War II. Thanks to the nice folks at Planned TV Arts for sending this.

Arms Wide Open: A Midwife’s Journey– Patricia Harman. After reading, and thoroughly enjoying The Blue Cotton Gown, I wanted more of the story. I know that working as a midwife, even in a smaller community that appreciates having health alternatives, has gotten tougher because of legal and insurance restrictions. In this second volume, Harmon does tackle some of her worries about medical practice, maternal health, OB/GYN insurance, and how that climate is changing. I feel something of a kinship with Harman- because I know that even half that level of worry would keep me awake at night. I just wish I could write about my insomnia-inducing fears as eloquently as she does!

The bulk of this story focuses on her early, hippie life, delivering her first baby in a commune, living in a cabin heated by a wood stove, foraging for food and raising a garden. Feeling that her hippie life was completely alien made me realize what a city girl I am… reading about them choosing a pioneer life and its difficulties, talking about changing the world– it was anthropologically fascinating, a little perplexing. But always, always well written. Harman’s prose and descriptions are sensory and immediate as well as elegantly constructed.

Thanks to Patricia Harman for arranging to send me a review copy.

The Little Women Letters– by Gabrielle Donnelly.
The premise for this one is interesting: Sisters Emma, Lulu and Sophie Atwater are living in London. They can trace their family tree back to the March sisters, of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The lit ref was enough to pique my interest in what is otherwise pretty straightforward chick lit… not usually a genre I’d choose to read on my own. I like the idea of a family having such a deep and storied history, tracing back to interesting and independent-for-their-times women like the fictional Marches. But I’m not sure the setup worked for the stories that evolved around the Atwater sisters. I caught myself squinting to graft the Atwaters’ stories onto their March ancestors, in spots where it felt forced.
Maybe sensible Emma, planning her wedding and budgeting for a new fridge, is a stand-in for Meg. Amy the artist and Sophie the actress– babies of the family, a little selfish and indulged. No problem there. Frustrated family misfit Lulu certainly identifies with her great-grandmother Jo… and in her case, the analogy mostly worked, especially as she discovered Jo’s letters. The letters were well done: riffing on Alcott’s original characters and language pretty seamlessly.
I’m not usually a reader of chick lit without a pretty powerful gimmick to draw me in (foodie lit works rather well, or mystery or historical fiction)– it may be that someone who seeks out the genre more than I do would have fewer reservations about the tie between the Atwaters and their March ancestors.

Thanks to Kaitlyn McCrystal at Simon and Schuster for sending me this.

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