The Monday Check-In ~ 4/15/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

This seems to have been quite a week for graphic novels! But some other reading too…

The Beauty, volumes 1 – 5 by Jeremy Haun et al: See my write-up of this graphic novel series here.

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert HIllman: Moving historical fiction. My review is here.

A Fire Story by Brian Fies: A graphic novel portraying the author’s experiences during the 2017 California wildfires. My review is here.

I also LOVED…

I swear, this book IS me. And I suspect it’s all of you too — the author absolutely nails the glories and obsessions that come with being a book lover.

Pop culture goodness:

As I write this on Sunday night, I’m counting down — just like everyone else — to the season premiere of Game of Thrones!

Fresh Catch:

A few treats:

Any Kate Bush fans out there? I bought a copy of this gorgeous new volume of Kate Bush song lyrics as a little gift from me to me. (It doesn’t really come through in the image, but the lettering is silvery and so pretty.)

Aaaaaand… I also splurged on two special edition hardcovers that I needed for my shelves:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Kingdom of Needle & Bone by Mira Grant: Trust Mira Grant to completely freak me out! A novella about deadly disease outbreaks, with a decidely anti-anti-vaxxer agenda.

Now playing via audiobook:

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: Just finished Sunday afternoon – review to follow. And since I finished, I started…

Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs: A re-read via audio, because I love the worlds created by Patricia Briggs and want to immerse myself again before her new book comes out in May!

Ongoing reads:

My Outlander book group is continuing our Lord John read-along with two Lord John (or Lord John-adjacent) stories from the Seven Stones to Stand or Fall collection. We’re reading the story Besieged right now.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Take A Peek Book Review: The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Tom Hope doesn’t think he’s much of a farmer, but he’s doing his best. He can’t have been much of a husband to Trudy, either, judging by her sudden departure. It’s only when she returns, pregnant to someone else, that he discovers his surprising talent as a father. So when Trudy finds Jesus and takes little Peter away with her to join the holy rollers, Tom’s heart breaks all over again.

Enter Hannah Babel, quixotic smalltown bookseller: the second Jew—and the most vivid person—Tom has ever met. He dares to believe they could make each other happy.

But it is 1968: twenty-four years since Hannah and her own little boy arrived at Auschwitz. Tom Hope is taking on a batttle with heartbreak he can barely even begin to imagine.

My Thoughts:

First of all, let’s be clear, while the title refers to a bookshop, this novel isn’t particularly about the bookshop. There’s a whole subgenre of bookstore fiction, sure to warm the hearts of booklovers everywhere. This isn’t one of those books.

Set in Australia, The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted tells the story of Tom, a lonely man who’s been unlucky in love. Tom is a sheep farmer who lives a contented, quiet life, until his wife Trudy deserts him and takes away Peter, the son of his heart if not his body. When Tom meets Hannah, it’s like he gets a new ray of sunshine in his life, and the two form a passionate, unbreakable bond. But Hannah’s past haunts her in ways Tom can’t quite understand, and when Peter reenters their lives, it may be more than Hannah can stand.

The story is truly affecting in parts, and I came to love Tom quite a lot. He’s sweet and good and loving, although he does seem to allow himself to roll with the punches rather than standing up to the people and events that hurt him. Tom’s relationship with Peter is lovely, so when he’s taken away, it is a heart-breaking development. The story of Peter’s experiences at “Jesus Camp” is horrible — he’s essentially trapped there by a mother who’s caught up in pastor’s cult-like community, and I was really upset by Peter’s suffering and the length of time it takes for him to finally be rescued.

We hear about Hannah’s past through chapters scattered throughout the book that show her experiences in the concentration camp and the years afterward. Of course, she’s deserving of great sympathy, but there are times with Tom and Peter that’s it hard to like her.

Overall, this is a quiet and moving book. I loved the descriptions of Tom’s farm and the Australian setting and landscapes. The writing is slow and underspoken, with a brevity that somehow makes the emotion harder to access at times.  The juxtaposition of ranch life in Australia and memories of the Holocaust makes for an unusual mix, but it works. The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is an unusual work of historical fiction, definitely worth checking out.

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The details:

Title: The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted
Author: Robert Hillman
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication date: April 9, 2019
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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The Monday Check-In ~ 4/8/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

Newest reviews:

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See: My review is up! Check it out, here.

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher: This very well may be my favorite of 2019 so far. My review is here.

Roar by Cecelia Ahern: A collection of 30 terrific stories. My review is here.

Read but not reviewed:

The Editor by Steven Rowley: An okay read, but not one I’m inspired to review. I sped through this book, not because I loved it, but because I was afraid that if I slowed down, I’d end up just walking away.

The Walking Dead, volume 31: The Rotten Core – the newest release in the comics series, which is now hopelessly confusing to me as I try to separate the living from the dead while comparing the books and the TV show. I’m still enjoying the series… but this panel from volume 31 kind of sums up a lot about both versions of the story:

And in audiobooks…

I finished my re-read of Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs, book #10 in the ongoing Mercy Thompson series. Fabulous.

Fresh Catch:

When my favorite local bookstore got in a stash of Seanan McGuire’s Velveteen books (now out of print in hardcover)… well, how was I supposed to resist? I just picked up these lovelies over the weekend — signed and everything!

Plus, I treated myself to a few more books as well — a pair of graphic novels that seem perfect for me…

… and a paperback copy of my book group’s upcoming classic read:

 

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman: Honestly, they had me at “bookshop”. I’m just starting this novel, but the description makes it sounds like a book for me!

And just to lighten (?) things up a bit, I’m switching off my more serious reading with some graphic novels, starting with volume one of The Beauty, a horror series that I’d never heard of. But hey, this is what happens when you go to the library with time to spare — you never know what you’ll find on the shelf!

Now playing via audiobook:

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: This is my book group’s pick for April. I seem to end up doing audiobooks for my book group books a lot, maybe because I never figure out how to squeeze in all my “for me” reads alongside all my obligation reads. I’ve only listened to the first chapter so far, but I’m really liking this one!

Ongoing reads:

My Outlander book group is continuing our Lord John read-along with two Lord John (or Lord John-adjacent) stories from the Seven Stones to Stand or Fall collection. We’re reading the story Besieged right now.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Book Review: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends that come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epoch set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story—one of women’s friendships and the larger forces that shape them—The Island of Sea Women introduces readers to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives.

The Island of Sea Women is a gorgeous, though-provoking, emotionally powerful read. We first meet Young-sook as an old woman on the beach in Jeju in 2008, thinking back on her life and feeling somewhat amused by the tourists who now flock to her island, viewing the elders of the haenyeo diving women as a living piece of history and a novelty. When she is approached by a visiting family who seem to know who she is, Young-sook is thrust back into her long-ago memories.

We’re reintroduced to Young-sook as a 15-year-old in 1938, about to embark on her first real dive with the haenyeo collective led by her mother. In Jeju, women support their families through their diving, while the men tend the children and the home. It’s an unusual matriarchy that suits the lives of the islanders. The women are strong physically and mentally, worrying about providing for their families, and gossiping about needing to care for their men and children. The diving offers sustenance and independence, but also presents very real dangers to the women, as Young-sook learns on her very first day.

Danger also comes from the Japanese colonial presence and the constant threat that hangs over the Korean population. The end of the war brings new sorts of danger, as the division of Korea results in danger from the military rulers and right-wing government.

Meanwhile, Young-sook and her best friend Mi-ja grow up together, close as sisters, until their adult lives as married women and mothers starts forcing them apart. Something terrible happens to cause a permanent rift, but we don’t discover the awful events until about midway through the book.

I really don’t want to disclose too many of the plot points, so I’ll leave my remarks pretty brief. This book was fascinating. I knew very little about Korean history before reading The Island of Sea Women, and I certainly had never heard about the haenyeo. The culture of the haenyeo is so amazing to learn about — even without the captivating characters and their stories, the story of the divers and their lives kept me completely engrossed.

Add to that a powerful story of friendship, family, love, obligation, and betrayal, as well as sharply drawn depictions of people who feel real, and you have a book that’s absolutely worth reading, and very, very memorable.

I highly recommend The Island of Sea Women, both for fans of historical fiction as well as anyone who enjoys poignant, emotionally rich stories about remarkable people. And if you’re not familiar with the haenyeo of Jeju, or want to learn more about them, check out this video for starters:


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The details:

Title: The Island of Sea Women
Author: Lisa See
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: March 5, 2019
Length: 374 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

The Monday Check-In ~ 4/1/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

I just got back from a trip to the East Coast. It was a jam-packed week seeing family and friends, lots of fun, but I’m glad to be home and sleeping in my own bed.

And just a little highlight — while in New York for a day, I wandered by (and into) The Strand bookstore, which is such a happy place to be. This is from outside the store:

What did I read during the last week?

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen: Terrific survival story. My review is here.

Wingspan by Chris Bohjalian: I read this and two other flight-related short works this week. My thoughts are here.

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See: Powerful and beautiful. I’ll post a review once I catch up on some sleep!

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: What a gorgeous book. This was my book group’s classic read for the past two months — and while we still have two chapters left to read and discuss as a group, I couldn’t wait, and read through to the end. I’m so glad we chose this one to read together!

In audiobooks, I finished my re-read of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. I’m ready for the sequel!

Pop culture goodness:

I’m sad about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend coming to an end! The series finale is this coming Friday. The current season hasn’t shone for me the way the earlier ones did, but it’s still creative and goofy and just all-around terrific. Here’s a clip from last week’s episode that made me giggle:

Fresh Catch:

Subterranean Press was having a $10 sale, and I treated myself to two books:

And this isn’t a book, but it’s book-ish — my daughter sent me a super cute Jane Austen game!

Now I just need her to come home for a visit so we can play it.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher: Really great so far!

Now playing via audiobook:

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs: It’s time for a Mercy re-read! The new Mercy Thompson book comes out in May, which means that April will be my month to revisit the most recent book in the series (and then the most recent Charles and Anna story too). And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out the first Mercy book, Moon Called. Maybe you’ll discover why this is one of my very favorite urban fantasy series!

Ongoing reads:

My Outlander book group is continuing our Lord John read-along with two Lord John (or Lord John-adjacent) stories from the Seven Stones to Stand or Fall collection. We’re starting the story Besieged this week — and while I’ve read it already and didn’t exactly love it, I’m hoping to get some new appreciation for it by reading it with the group.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

The Monday Check-In ~ 3/25/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

I’m away this week, visiting family on the East Coast. Still reading, of course! I may not be online much until I get back home next weekend… so if I don’t connect with you this week, I hope you have a great one!

What did I read during the last week?

Only Child by Rhiannon Navin: A book group book! My review is here.

Inspection by Josh Malerman: So weird. So good. My review is here.

I also finished two frothy, fun, sweet books on the plane:

  • The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston
  • Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

Over in my book group, we finished our group read of A Plague of Zombies, a novella starring Lord John Grey. It’s a good one!

Fresh Catch:

No new books this week. Yay, me!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See: I’ve only just begun — but I’m really looking forward to getting further into the story.

Now playing via audiobook:

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse: It’s fun to listen to the audiobook version!

Ongoing reads:

My book group’s classic read is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. We’ll be done next week. What a powerful book.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Shelf Control #159: The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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A little note for 2019: For the next short while, I think I’ll focus specifically on books I’ve picked up at our library’s fabulous annual sales. With all books $3 or less, it’s so hard to resist! And yet, they pile up, year after year, so it’s a good idea to remind myself that these books are living on my shelves.

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Title: The Atomic City Girls
Author: Janet Beard
Published: 2018
Length: 353 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In the bestselling tradition of Hidden Figures and The Wives of Los Alamos, comes a riveting novel of the everyday women who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II

“What you see here, what you hear here, what you do here, let it stay here.”

In November 1944, eighteen-year-old June Walker boards an unmarked bus, destined for a city that doesn’t officially exist. Oak Ridge, Tennessee has sprung up in a matter of months—a town of trailers and segregated houses, 24-hour cafeterias, and constant security checks. There, June joins hundreds of other young girls operating massive machines whose purpose is never explained. They know they are helping to win the war, but must ask no questions and reveal nothing to outsiders.

The girls spend their evenings socializing and flirting with soldiers, scientists, and workmen at dances and movies, bowling alleys and canteens. June longs to know more about their top-secret assignment and begins an affair with Sam Cantor, the young Jewish physicist from New York who oversees the lab where she works and understands the end goal only too well, while her beautiful roommate Cici is on her own mission: to find a wealthy husband and escape her sharecropper roots. Across town, African-American construction worker Joe Brewer knows nothing of the government’s plans, only that his new job pays enough to make it worth leaving his family behind, at least for now. But a breach in security will intertwine his fate with June’s search for answers.

When the bombing of Hiroshima brings the truth about Oak Ridge into devastating focus, June must confront her ideals about loyalty, patriotism, and war itself.

How and when I got it:

LIBRARY SALE!

Why I want to read it:

I feel like there have been several fiction and non-fiction books recently which have centered on women doing war work during WWII, not just with the Manhattan Project but with other wartime industry support functions as well. I’m always interested to learn about the roles women played behind the scenes and how their lives were affected, for better and for worse, by the new opportunities that came their way when the country was at war. I’ve heard this book mentioned by other bloggers a few times, and it piqued my interest enough to grab it when I saw it at the book sale.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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The Monday Check-In ~ 3/18/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

Woman 99 by Greer Macallister: Powerful historical fiction. My review is here.

Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales by Tamora Pierce: A terrific set of stories set in and around the fantasy kingdom of Tortall. My review is here.

A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn: The 4th book in the delicious Victorian-era mystery series starring Veronica Speedwell. My review is here.

Thanks to the Serial Reader app, I was able to fulfill one of my goals for this year: Read more Dickens! I finished The Old Curiosity Shop in a mad rush over the weekend. While the point of Serial Reader is to take a big, potentially daunting book and digest it in small, bite-sized pieces, I have a tendency to reading many days’ installments in a row as I get close to the end. The Old Curiosity Shop was a 75-installment serial on the app, but I ended up finishing it in five weeks. Serial Reader is a really fun way to tackle bigger books, and I had a great time reading this work by Charles Dickens, which — to be completely honest — I hadn’t even heard of before I went looking for Dickens options.

Pop culture goodness:

Over on Netflix, I watched the first episode of The Umbrella Academy. Seems like a promising start! I’ll definitely be continuing over the next week or so. Anyone else watching this?

Fresh Catch:

Once again, no new books! Except for the Kindle variety, because I can never resist a good Kindle deal.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Inspection by Josh Malerman: I’ve only read the first chapter so far. Man, is it weird! But in a good way, so I’m buckling in for the ride.

Now playing via audiobook:

Only Child by Rhiannon Navin: My current audiobook is my book group’s pick for March. It’s pretty hard to take because of the subject matter — a school shooting. At the risk of sounding insensitive, the POV was kind of off-putting at first. The book is told from the perspective of a six-year-old, and while it’s moving and tragic, having a child narrate an entire novel got on my nerves a little at the beginining. Now that I’m past the halfway point, I’ve gotten used to it. It’s a brutally emotional book, but so compelling.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing reads with my book group:

  • A Plague of Zombies by Diana Gabaldon: We’ll be finished with this Lord John novella this coming week.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Our group classic read — such beautiful language.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Book Review: A Dangerous Collaboration (Veronica Speedwell, #4) by Deanna Raybourn

Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell is whisked off to a remote island off the tip of Cornwall when her natural historian colleague Stoker’s brother calls in a favor. On the pretext of wanting a companion to accompany him to Lord Malcolm Romilly’s house party, Tiberius persuades Veronica to pose as his fiancée–much to Stoker’s chagrin. But upon arriving, it becomes clear that the party is not as innocent as it had seemed. Every invited guest has a connection to Romilly’s wife, Rosamund, who disappeared on her wedding day three years ago, and a dramatic dinner proves she is very much on her husband’s mind.

As spectral figures, ghostly music, and mysterious threats begin to plague the partygoers, Veronica enlists Stoker’s help to discover the host’s true motivations. And as they investigate, it becomes clear that there are numerous mysteries surrounding the Romilly estate, and every person present has a motive to kill Rosamund…

The house party with a twist is such a trope in old-timey feeling mysteries… and with good reason. Take a remote location, preferably in a house with some grandeur or mystique, add in a motley assortment of house guests, all invited for a variety of reasons, most of which end up being pretenses, maybe mix in some gothic family secrets… and bam! You’re all set up for a slightly claustrophobic, atmospheric whodunnit.

In the case of A Dangerous Collaboration, while the set-up is reminiscent of Agatha Christie, with perhaps a hint of Rebecca too, it’s a trope that works extremely well. We pick up with our plucky heroine Veronica Speedwell, already a world-famous lepidopterist despite being only in her mid-20s, and her dark and dangerous colleague Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, known as Stoker. The two have chemistry galore. When we last saw them in A Treacherous Curse, Veronice and Stoker had just solved a mystery involving plundered Egyptian tombs and Stoker’s notorious past… and were on the verge of a long-awaited lip-lock and possible confession of feelings, when they were interrupted by Stoker’s older brother, the Viscount Tiberius Templeton-Vane.

In A Dangerous Collaboration, we continue mere moments later. Tiberius arrives with a proposition for Veronica — to accompany him to a gathering at his friend Malcolm’s Cornish island castle, where she’ll be able to collect specimens of a rare butterfly previously thought extinct. Naturally, Veronica jumps at the chance, despite Stoker’s objections. So also naturally, Stoker shows up at the island too, where the two brothers and Veronica join Malcolm, his spinster sister, his widowed sister-in-law, and his nephew for a social gathering. At which point Malcolm informs them all that he needs their help — he wants to learn the truth of what really happened to Rosamund on their wedding day. Did she flee? Did she die? Was she murdered? There are some dark and disturbing possibilities, and all of the assembled guests, apart from Veronica and Stoker, seem to have much more at stake than is initially apparent.

The Veronica Speedwell books are utterly delightful, with their arch humor, constant sense of adventure, and layered mysteries to solve, all of which are enhanced a thousand times over by the sparks continually flying between Veronica and Stoker. While A Dangerous Collaboration felt at first a little tamer than the previous three books, probably because Veronica and Stoker did not appear themselves to be in mortal peril this time around, soon the danger grows and before long they’re once again risking life and limb to learn the truth.

Along the way, we get to know Tiberius better and understand what makes him tick, as well as gaining insight on the highly charged relationship between the brothers. For me, the most delicious part of the reading experience was the mounting tension between Veronica and Stoker, as they creep closer and closer to the point where they’ll just have to finally admit their feelings and declare their intentions toward one another. Like I said, these two — chemistry, sparks, fire, passion… you name it. (But no, there’s no graphic physical stuff, just tension and attraction galore.)

As always, the language and dialogue in these books is so much fun. A little sampling:

“What in the name of seven hells do you mean you want to ‘borrow’ Miss Speedwell? She not an umbrella, for God’s sake.”

Her doglike devotion was appalling; any woman with spirit or strength could only feel revulsion at the notion of offering oneself up like a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter of one’s own independent thought and feeling.

Men were a joy to sample, but a mate would be a complication I could not abide.

“Does this mean you will stop torturing me by displaying yourself in various states of undress?’

“Not a chance.”


At the end of A Dangerous Collaboration, we get a hint about what Veronica and Stoker’s next adventure will be in book #5. And now I’m jumping out of my skin, dying to read it NOW. This is really a terrific series, and I encourage everyone to start at the beginning and dive in!

Want to know more? Check out my reviews of the previous books in the Veronica Speedwell series:
A Curious Beginning
A Perilous Undertaking
A Treacherous Curse
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The details:

Title: A Dangerous Collaboration (Veronica Speedwell, #4)
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: March 12, 2019
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Historical fiction/mystery
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Book Review: Woman 99 by Greer Macallister

She’s only a number now.

When Charlotte Smith’s wealthy parents commit her beloved sister Phoebe to the infamous Goldengrove Asylum, Charlotte knows there’s more to the story than madness. She risks everything and follows her sister inside, surrendering her real identity as a privileged young lady of San Francisco society to become a nameless inmate, Woman 99.

The longer she stays, the more she realizes that many of the women of Goldengrove aren’t insane, merely inconvenient — and that her search for the truth threatens to dig up secrets that some very powerful people would do anything to kep.

A historical thriller rich in detail, deception, and revelation, Woman 99 honors the fierce women of the past, born into a world that denied them power but underestimated their strength.

What a read! In Woman 99, we first meet Charlotte Smith as the pampered daughter of a social-climbing family living in 1880s San Francisco. Daughters are trained from childhood in etiquette and comportment so they can eventually serve their purpose — helping their families climb higher through an advantageous marriage. Charlotte is proper and well-behaved and subservient to her mother’s wishes…

That was what all my education had been leading to. All the lessons and lectures. We were trained into ideal wives. Daughters were assets to be traded, like indigo, like hemp.

… but Charlotte’s sister Phoebe, according to their mother, is “unmarriageable”, the family disgrace.

While the term may not have been in use at the time, from the descriptions of Phoebe, she’s clearly bipolar. She has manic episodes, full of outrageous social behavior and flights of artistic fancy, then periods of dark depression during which she’s barely functional. In between the extremes, she has periods of near “normalcy”, and no matter what, Charlotte is devoted to her older sister, whom she loves with all her heart.

When Phoebe finally goes too far (and it’s not until later that we learn what this episode was about), she’s committed to Goldengrove, the Napa Valley asylum owned by the wealthy neighbors of the Smith family. Known as a “Progressive Home for the Curable Insane”, Goldengrove is promoted through glossy brochures and the social cachet of the Sidwell family. Still, Charlotte is terrified for Phoebe and her loss of freedom, and is determined to find a way to rescue her.

Charlotte concocts a scheme to get admitted to Goldengrove under an assumed identity, anticipating that she’ll quickly find Phoebe, announce who she is and that they’re going home, and that will be that. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned. Charlotte is unprepared for the emotional and physical trials of being institutionalized, and is horrified to discover that finding Phoebe and getting back out again will not be as simple as she planned. Meanwhile, as Charlotte spends weeks in the asylum, she gets to know the other women of her ward, and learns some shocking truths — the advanced treatment methods that Goldengrove is so well known for have been replaced by cruelty and starvation, and many of the women there are perfectly sane… just problematic for their families or husbands or society in general.

It had claimed to be a place of healing, but instead, it had been a convenient holding place for inconvenient women, serving only the people outside it, never the ones within.

Woman 99 is powerful, upsetting, and incredibly descriptive, showing us through Charlotte’s struggles the restricted roles available to women, the way certain women could be so easily discarded by society, and the shocking lack of value a woman was deemed to have if she dared step outside society’s norms. It’s not at all surprising to see how terrible the conditions inside Goldengrove are. Treatment of mental health at the time varied widely from physician to physician and asylum to asylum, and while some of the treatment concepts may seem worthwhile, such as outdoor hikes or music, there are also terrible methods such as a “water cure” and restraints and isolation, not to mention rumors of women having their teeth removed because poor dental health was considered linked to madness.

Over the course of the book, I really came to care about Charlotte, and appreciated how much she risks for her sister and the other women she meets inside Goldengrove. Charlotte’s initial act of rebellion is spurred on by her love for her sister, but she really has no idea what she’s getting herself into or how much danger she’ll be in. She gains strength and determination through her ideal, and emerges as a woman who’s no longer willing to meekly accept her mother’s plans for her future.

I highly recommend Woman 99. It’s a terrific, inspiring, moving read. And hey, bonus points for the San Francisco setting!

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The details:

Title: Woman 99
Author: Greer Macallister
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: March 5, 2019
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley