Review: Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse

Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse, Faith SullivanMost people would consider Nell Stillman’s life rather ordinary. Harvester, Minnesota was founded when God was a boy, and no amount of modern conveniences seem able to drag it into the modern age.

But when you look closer, you see that Nell’s life is actually extraordinary. She raises her son alone, falls in love, experiences some of the horrors of war, and has an impact on the world around her.

Throughout the ups and down, literature is Nell’s constant companion. The books of Austen, Chekhov, and her beloved Wodehouse console her, transform her, and give her something to live for.

A total surprise

Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse started off as what I call a “quiet” novel: the plot is very domestic and calm — there’s no murder, explosions, or heavy drama. Nell is simply a good person with realistic characteristics and flaws.

Things change at about the halfway point. Her son is home from WWI, recovering from wounds and crippled by shell shock. She starts getting anonymous notes calling her a “whore” for loving a man who is not her husband. The Great Depression and old age sap the life from her dearest friends.

Now the quiet novel I was liking just fine became a study of the human condition, and I couldn’t stop reading. It was obvious the author wanted me to appreciate the classic books Nell was reading, but in truth I kept skimming over that stuff. I wanted to read about the characters.

The ending was so poignant, and hit me right in the gut. My husband found me crying on the couch with the book in my lap. Fortunately this is a sight to which he is accustomed, so it didn’t cause a freakout.

Sullivan has written a beautiful, heartbreaking, uplifting novel. The characters feel like family, and I love them. Please read this book.

Review: Pleating for Mercy

Pleating for Mercy, Melissa BourbonAfter her great-grandmother’s death, Harlow Jean Cassidy has moved back to her hometown of Bliss, Texas. She’s happy to be back, but her dressmaking boutique hasn’t exactly taken off — she’s spent most of her time hemming polyester pants.

Then Harlow’s childhood friend Josie shows up needing a wedding gown and three bridesmaid’s dresses for her ceremony that’s less than two weeks away. Suddenly Harlow has more work than she can handle.

Things get worse when one of Josie’s bridesmaids is found murdered. With the help of newfound friends — and her family secret — Harlow must find the killer before it’s too late.

Nothing like a cozy mystery

When life is crazy, sometimes a cozy murder mystery is just what the doctor ordered.

Pleating for Mercy is quintessentially cozy, with fun characters, small romances, and a mystery that managed to be interesting without being overly heavy.

It’s the first in a series, naturally, and sets up some great characters and relationships.

There’s the magical “Cassidy family secret,” as well as some ghostly activity. These are both well done, and I enjoyed seeing Harlow grow into her abilities.

Two thumbs up! Now, back to cross-stitching.

(I read this book for the Monthly Motif Challenge. October’s challenge was to read a mystery novel, be it cozy, scary, or paranormal.)

Review: Keturah and Lord Death

Keturah and Lord Death, Martine LeavittWhile wandering the woods outside her small village, Keturah becomes lost. On the third day, Death comes for her.

Using her talents as a storyteller, Keturah convinces Death to let her live for one more day. But she must find her true love before the next sunset, or she will die.

I can’t even

This book is so dumb I couldn’t even finish summarizing it.

I’m tempted to list excuses. It’s a young adult novel targeted at girls, so of course it’s sappy and ridiculous. There are some potentially interesting themes. But in truth, it’s…it’s just not good.

The plot is uneven. Death wants to kill Keturah, but she tells a story that he somehow considers compelling enough to let her live. She spends the next several hundred pages setting her friends up with husbands, but then there’s also a plague and a witch?

It felt super generic and overly sappy. I kept imaging Death as a kid wearing all black, who does a lot of whining and constantly has his hair combed over one eye.

The author couldn’t make me care about any of the characters. I skimmed after page 50, mostly to see if it got any better. It didn’t. The ending is nearly nonsensical.

A totally unexpected bummer of a read.

(I read this book for the Monthly Motif Challenge. September’s challenge was to read a book that involves a game of some sort.)

Review: The Tin Ticket

The Tin Ticket, Deborah J. SwissTeenagers Agnes and Janet stole clothing; Bridget stole milk; Ludlow pawned her employer’s spoons. In the early 1800s in Britain the sentence was not jail time, but transport.

These women — and thousands of others like them — were convicted by courts eager to populate Van Diemen’s Land (later Tasmania). Packed into ships like cattle, the convicts endured sickness and attacks from their captors. Of those who made it across the world alive, many arrived onshore pregnant.

The Tin Ticket tells the stories of four women and their incredible journeys from poverty in England and Ireland to exile in a country they were destined to shape for future generations.

Horrifying and amazing

If there’s one thing you can count on government for, it’s making terrible decisions in the name of nationalism.

For 80 years in the 18th and 19th centuries, the British Empire transported hundreds of thousands of men and women to Australia. Most of the 25,000 women exiled were first-time offenders convicted of minor crimes.

Author Deborah J. Swiss tells the stories of many of these women, focusing on Agnes McMillan, Janet Houston, Ludlow Tedder, and Bridget Mulligan.

Each of their stories is harsh and ultimately redemptive. Taken together, they represent the thousands of transported and abused women who served their sentences and then had to make new lives for themselves in a foreign land.

Not only did they survive, many of them thrived. They went on to marry, have children, and shape their society for the future. Their strength is incredible, and I’m so proud of all they did.

Quickie Reviews: All the Murders!

Peak season is underway at work. My days are crazy, and I use any remaining brain power trying to remember whether or not I’ve brushed my teeth.

As you might have guessed, my reading has hit a slump. I’m hoping that the books I ordered will pull me out of that, but in the meantime here’s a few things I’ve been reading.

Midnight Riot

Midnight Riot, Ben AaronovitchModern setting with a heavy dose of magic, ghosts, and exploding faces. I read this for my book club. General consensus is that the book is good, if flawed on the world building. Interesting characters — what the hell is up with Molly, and how is she so badass? — with a diverse set of nationalities and races. First in a series.

The Cutting Season

The Cutting Season, Attica LockeWhen the body of a migrant worker is found at Belle Vie, everyone on the property is a suspect. The historic Louisiana plantation’s manager, Caren, finds herself torn between catching the murderer and protecting her daughter, who is hiding something. Excellent commentary on race, politics, history, the law, and love — plus a great murder mystery.

Right now I’m flitting from book to book, unable to land on anything I really like. Life is just so noisy. I think I need to read something quiet.