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review 2018-08-05 19:26
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories - Stephen Emerson,Lucia Berlin,Lydia Davis

I struggled with how to rate this book. On the one hand, this collection of 43 short stories is brilliant. The writing is clear, vivid, engaging and insightful. The author clearly has a deep understanding of people and how they work, and has been around the block a few times. The settings – mostly the American Southwest, the Bay Area and Mexico – come to life so that you can practically see, sometimes even taste them. And there are some really excellent, tightly-written stories here. They are often melancholy – dealing with alcoholism, difficult family relationships, social injustice – but written with a freshness and empathy that, for me, kept them from ever feeling too dark. A few standouts (not an exhaustive list):

“A Manual for Cleaning Women”: A woman describes her various jobs cleaning houses for the wealthy and her daily routine, while the tragic end to her last relationship is slowly revealed.

“Tiger Bites”: A young woman who has just separated from her husband goes to Mexico for a back-alley abortion, and upon realizing she can’t go through with it, is tasked with the care of a young girl.

“Good and Bad”: A teenage expat in Chile is drawn into the orbit of a socialist teacher.

“Friends”: A single working woman struggles to make time to spend with an older couple who seem alone, only to discover that they think they’re doing her a favor.

“Mijito”: A teenage girl follows her lover from Mexico to the Bay Area, only to be abandoned with a child in the worst possible conditions – a realistic portrayal of the life of an uneducated, impoverished immigrant.

“502”: An alcoholic leaves her car on the street, where it crashes into the car of her alcoholic friends (fortunately, neither car was occupied at the time).

So I don’t disagree that Lucia Berlin is a hidden gem of an author. But what drove me batty about this collection is that virtually every story seems to be taken from her life, and features a protagonist whose life is consistent with Berlin’s own distinctive biography: the early years in the mining towns; growing up with her alcoholic mother and grandparents in El Paso during WWII; being kicked out of multiple schools; the teenage years living a privileged life in Chile; college in New Mexico; an early marriage that produced two sons and soon ended; two more marriages (one spent primarily in New York and abandoned for the third husband in Mexico) that also ended, leaving her a single mother of four sons; moving to the Bay Area and taking jobs as a high school teacher, hospital switchboard operator and ward clerk, cleaning woman and physician’s assistant; the alcoholism; the scoliosis; the difficult, alcoholic mother with pretensions of class; moving in with her disowned younger sister in Mexico City to care for her while the sister was dying of cancer; the writing; eventually moving to Boulder. Sometimes names are changed, sometimes not; the sister is always named Sally, the oldest sons always Ben and Keith, the mother’s family always Moynihans and the flamboyant cousin always Bella Lynn; the younger sons’ names sometimes vary, as does the protagonist’s own (sometimes she is Lucia, sometimes not; Carlotta is a recurring alternative).

And that didn’t really work for me – having all the stories be about the author, or at least, about characters who had lived the author’s life (the two largely superfluous introductory essays argue that the stories aren’t entirely autobiographical because she changed some details and otherwise exercised creative license). What I enjoy in short story collections is the boundless possibility, reading about different people in different situations reading different lives. When all of the stories are about the same character, those possibilities are hemmed in, and the stories begin to feel repetitive. Some don’t really have a plot at all, but are simply musings on the author’s life and relationships: in “Mama” for instance, the narrator and her sister Sally discuss their memories of their mother and complicated feelings about her, rehashing what we’ve already seen in other stories. Stories often include superfluous details, as if the author knew too much about her own life to include only the information relevant to a 10-page story.

So that was frustrating; I wished Berlin had just written a novel or a memoir. Only in a couple of stories out of the 43 is the protagonist’s life actually inconsistent with Berlin’s. Three of them begin with a narrator who is very obviously not her, and I started to get excited, only to find upon reading further that her avatar was the second narrator and/or another primary character. Granted, some of my disappointment likely stems from expectations; if the stories were arranged chronologically and the book presented as a semi-autobiographical collection, I might have enjoyed it more.

So, do I recommend this? Sure – it is excellent writing and you know now what it is, so read it if that appeals to you. There is no doubt excellence here.

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review 2018-07-30 13:05
Review: Sail Away by Celia Imrie
Sail Away - Celia Imrie

 

The phone hasn’t rung for months. Suzy Marshall is discovering that work can be sluggish for an actress over sixty—even for the star of a wildly popular 1980s TV series. So when her agent offers her the plum role of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest in Zurich, it seems like a godsend. Until, that is, the play is abruptly cancelled under suspicious circumstances and Suzy is forced to take a job on a cruise ship to get home.

Meanwhile Amanda Herbert finds herself homeless in rainy Clapham. The purchase of her new apartment has fallen through, and her children are absorbed in their own dramas. Then she spots an advertisement for an Atlantic cruise and realizes that three weeks onboard would tide her over and save her money until her housing situation is resolved.

As the two women set sail on a new adventure, neither can possibly predict the questionable characters and strange dealings they will encounter, nor the unexpected rewards they will reap. Vividly evoking the old-world glamour of a cruise ship—and the complex politics of its staff quarters—Sail Away is at once a hilarious romp and a thrilling adventure.

 

 

 

 

*I received a free copy from the publisher and chose to leave a voluntary review. Thank you!*

 

 

3 ½ ★

 

 

This, for me was the perfect summer read. Set on a cruise ship, exploring the world and enjoying the sun.

I really enjoyed this book, and most of everything about it.

I really liked the characters and they seemed real with real problems and easy to relate to. 

The story was fun and easy to follow as well and I enjoyed it a lt. There were quite the few laugh out loud moments in the book that made me look silly reading in public. I may or may not have snorted a few times

The setting made me feel like I’m right there with them in the ship. Enjoying the cruise along with the fun and a bit of mystery.

As I said overall I enjoyed the story a lot but there were a few ones that just dragged on a bit too much and could have made shorter.

Also there were a few “funny’ moments while funny, they also seemed a bit forced and just didn’t come over too well. But overall it was a great fun and very enjoyable summer read.

I rate it 3 ½ ★

 

 

 

 

 

Buy Links 

 

 

Amazon *** B&N *** Kobo 

 

 

Source: snoopydoosbookreviews.com/index.php/2018/07/30/review-sail-away-by-celia-imrie
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review 2018-07-22 20:44
The First Frontier by Scott Weidensaul
The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America - Scott Weidensaul

I was really interested in reading this history of interactions between Native Americans and Europeans in colonial America, though the relatively small number of ratings gave me pause; American history is a popular topic among nonfiction readers. As it turns out I should have heeded those reservations. While I did learn some things from this book, it turned out to be a long, unorganized slog. It took me a long time to read because I returned to it only reluctantly, and because of poor organization did not teach me as much as I was hoping.

This book purports to cover over 250 years of American history, from pre-contact America up through the 1760s or so. The geographic scope, too, is broad: basically everywhere in what’s now the United States where white colonists and explorers came into contact with natives, from Maine to Florida to Ohio. The interaction between the two populations is the author’s focus.

The book mixes individual narratives with larger-scale history, but unfortunately the two facets often don’t connect well, and the history is not relayed in such a way as to be easy to remember. Though roughly chronological, the book doesn’t organize information in any particular way. Chapters have soft-focus, vague titles like “Between Two Fires,” rather than demarcating particular historical periods or events. It’s unclear how the people whose individual stories are told were chosen: are they meant to be important historical actors in their own right (many of them have a role, and from the book it’s difficult to judge how important that role was), or are theirs just interesting stories that happened to survive in written form? In some cases the book discusses people as if they are important, but it’s unclear why.

Perhaps several centuries are just too much to cover in one book, especially with a large geographic area and large number of groups (both European and Native American) involved. There are a lot of details and the author doesn’t really highlight key points or people or remind us who they are when they reappear. A lot of history happens in the background; events specific to the colonists, like disputes between colonies and the Salem witch trials, are mentioned only in passing. The colonies’ internal issues are not what this book is about, of course, but the book is also told mostly from the perspective of the colonists because they’re the ones who left written records. So I was left with a sense of reading a very incomplete history, and without being given a framework with which to organize all these names and details. We get the winter-trekking adventures of some interpreter or captive in the foreground, and then a dense collection of details in the background that aren’t really supported by the personal story.

The author’s citations are also lacking. His endnotes are extensive, but are almost entirely limited to instances where he quotes someone directly. Then he’ll state his own conclusions as fact and give no background at all for how he arrived at them, or share startling information that, because it’s not provided in the form of a direct quotation, has no reference. So it’s hard to evaluate his information.

Underlying all of this, the author doesn’t seem to have a thesis, any particular view or interpretation he’s arguing for. Some would say that’s good, that a historian should simply tell us what happened without putting his own spin on it. But Weidensaul – who as far as I can tell from his bio is an amateur historian – certainly does have a viewpoint; the lack of an organizing principle, a concerted argument, simply makes it harder to pin down, and leaves me wondering why exactly the author wrote this book.

Overall, yes, I learned some things from this book. But it was too tedious and frustrating for me to be likely to recommend.

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review 2018-07-22 15:29
Review: “Little Boy Afraid: A Boystown Prequel” (Boystown Mysteries, #0.75) by Marshall Thornton
Little Boy Afraid: A Boystown Prequel - Marshall Thornton

 

~ 3.5 stars ~

 

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review 2018-07-17 22:41
Lord of Secrets (Rogues to Riches #5) by Erica Ridley
Lord of Secrets - Erica Ridley

Lord of Secrets - Erica Ridley 

Lord of Secrets - Erica Ridley 

~3.5 stars ~

As an heir to a barony, Heath knows he must choose the right woman to marry. She’ll have to be a proper lady of a good family, and will never, ever give motive for scandal or gossip. So what if he’s not in love with the lady, right?

Heath in a way reminded of Mr. Darcy although not as brooding or surly. Honor bound to a fault, his first priority was always his family and his duty to the title. As the problem-solver of the ton, he considered his responsibility to keep his peers out of the gossip columns and pursue those that dared taint their “good” name. This attitude of him grated me because how could anyone be so honorable yet try to cover up other people’s mistakes. To me that was hypocritical. Fortunately, love outweighed any preconceived notions of honor and he found his true calling.
Nora had a secret of her own that if uncovered it could not only ruin her but also ruin her chances at love. I thought she was sweet, smart, and witty however I could totally see why she didn’t think highly of herself. It made me a happy reader when Heath saw past all of her shortcomings and focused on what mattered most. Their romance was engaging and slow-burning with the right amount of tension which made it feel believable.

Although there weren’t any tug-at-your-heart moments it was definitely enjoyable and a good continuation to the series. I recommend this series to anyone that likes endearing yet complex characters, funny moments, and good romance. 

Thanks to Negalley for providing a copy of this story for review.

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