Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Phryne Fisher On the Page and On the Screen

A few months ago, I was perusing my Netflix queue and happened to find a show called Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. It looked fun, so I decided to give it a try. It became my favorite show to watch after the kids went to bed or when I tried to write a blog post during naptime.

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Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries follows Phryne Fisher, who has come into a fortune later in life. She lives in Australia in the 1920s. Phryne is fabulous and she knows it. She ignores social convention by flaunting her lovers and even enjoying (!) her trysts. She drives her own car and is known to carry a gun (just in case). Our dear protagonist is hungry for knowledge and never content to leave a question unanswered. When local detective Jack Robinson finds her poking around his crime scene, he is initially irritated but soon discovers that Phryne is both charming and very good at solving mysteries. The two end up working together and the tension between the uninhibited Phryne and the very proper Jack is delightful.

There is also a fantastic roster of supporting characters including Phryne's butler (aptly named Mr. Butler); her ladies' maid/assistant Dot; Hugh, who works with Jack at the police station; and Burt and Cec, who help Phryne gather information. In the television show, these characters get enough screen time that you are almost in love with them as you are with Phryne herself.

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After I finished watching the show, I stumbled upon the book series and decided to see what was source material and what was unique to the television show. The books were published before the television show was created, but they were recently re-released with tie-in covers. I read Raisins and Almonds and Murder in the Dark, which are #9 and #16 in the series.

I remember watching Raisins and Almonds on tv. Phryne is pulled into the dark corners of Jewish politics after a man is murdered in a bookstore and the owner is wrongly arrested. I don't remember watching Murder in the Dark, but it's certainly possible that the story was changed significantly or I've just forgotten one episode! In that story, Phryne is invited to a huge party at an estate. The host is threatened and people start to go missing.

 

Both books gave me a good sense of Phryne herself, but I missed spending time with the secondary characters. They were almost entirely absent in one book and appeared periodically in the other. It also seemed to me that being forced to condense a story to just one episode made it tighter, as opposed to a sprawling 250 pages where you can devote pages to Phryne thinking or spend a page describing the lunch they are eating.

I will always be a big Phryne Fisher fan in whatever format I can find her. For someone new to the fabulous Phryne, the show or the books are a wonderful place to start. But I have to confess I think I will find myself re-watching the television show more often than I will be picking up another book.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

It's Monday in a very noisy house!

Hello friends! I'm writing this on Sunday evening, where I have managed to find a tiny pocket of peace and quiet. Maybe I'm just at peak introvert lately, but I feel like my beloved children have reached new and deafening levels of noise. Summer break should be great?

This week, I read and adored Marilynne Robinson's Home. I read Gilead a while ago and I am very much looking forward to reading Lila, the third book with those characters. I also read Ramona Blue, which is the newest book from Julie Murphy (of Dumplin' fame).

 

Next up for me is The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson.


What are you reading this week?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Sisters Saving Sisters

I have three younger sisters. We had our ups and downs as kids but as adults, I am happy to report that we are good friends. Sisterhood is a unique and powerful bond, whether you have sisters by blood or friends who become your family. Some of my favorite books have stories where ladies fight for their sisters or friends.


I finally grabbed Uprooted from my library after reading many rave reviews. Agnieszka lives in a small village with her family. Every ten years, a powerful wizard comes and takes one girl to live with him and Agnieszka knows it will be her best friend Kasia. Instead, he picks Agnieszka and takes her away to live in his secluded tower. It would have been easy for the story to be divided into her early life in the village and her time with the wizard, but the bond between the two friends is an important part of the story throughout. Agnieszka and Kasia are willing to face impossible odds to save their friend and come back to help each other again and again. The two are different in personality, but both of them are brave and committed to the people they love.

 

Last year I read A Thousand Nights, a retelling of the story by the very talented E.K. Johnston. Our unnamed protagonist is taken by the king to be the newest in the string of wives he marries and then murders. She manages to stay alive by telling the king stories of her childhood and family, but her sisters assumes that she is dead. Grieving and enraged, she prays that her sister will be made into a smallgod. Her dedication to her sister does indeed give power to the queen, who is very much alive and will soon need every bit of strength and power she can use.


I really enjoyed these books, particularly their portrayals of the power and importance of bonds between women. So today I want all of your recommendations. What are other books where women risk everything for their sisters?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Netgalley mini-reviews: The F Word and Lili DeJong

Olivia Morten seems to have a perfect life, but it is actually a carefully crafted facade. Olivia can spin anything, in her career as a publicist or in her personal life. When her crush from high school comes back into her life, her constructed life starts to fall apart. Olivia realizes that her friends are vapid, her husband is not invested in their marriage, and her beautiful, successful life is not making her happy. She finds herself reflecting on the girl she was in high school--she was fat and unpopular, but she knew who she was. Can she find that girl again?

I am a new Liza Palmer reader. I happened to read her book Girl Before a Mirror last year and really enjoyed it. But The F Word didn't work for me quite as well. Olivia is apparently a character in another of Palmer's books, which I haven't read. She might make more sense as a character if you have the whole picture. But within this book, Olivia is a tough character to follow. She has built up such a wall that it's difficult to get to know her. Maybe Olivia herself doesn't even know, and that's really apparent in her relationships with her husband Adam and Ben, the boy from high school. She has ignored Adam's infidelity for years and when things finally explode, she decides that she's done with that relationship. Instead, she focuses on Ben, who was cruel to her in high school. I wish we had more insight into Olivia and Ben in high school and their relationship then. It would have made their interactions in the present more significant. While this story wasn't my favorite, I can certainly see myself giving another Liza Palmer novel a try.

The F Word
By Liza Palmer
Flatiron Books April 2017
288 pages
Read via Netgalley


Lilli has big hopes for the future. Her brother and her fiance have gone to find good jobs and have promised to send for her when they are settled. But her life quickly takes a turn when she discovers she is pregnant. There is no way her father and new stepmother or Quaker community will support her, so Lilli finds sanctuary at the Philadelphia Haven for Women and Infants. After her daughter is born, she is expected to give her up and go back to her life. But Lilli quickly learns that she cannot part with her baby and decides to do whatever it takes to keep her child safe.

Lilli de Jong is told as a series of diary entries as Lilli details the love she shares with Johan, her hopes for the future, and her quick descent from an honorable woman to someone with no place to call home. In some ways, this book reminded me of Pamela, where we see seemingly the whole world act cruelly towards one young woman. But Benton does a wonderful job of showing just how impossible it was to be a single mother in the 19th century. It's sobering to think about how things have changed and how they still haven't; if you are a parent and have no one to care for your child, how can you work? If you can't work, how can you provide for a child? Through it all, Lilli remains steadfast and determined to keep the child she loves.

Lilli de Jong
By Janet Benton
Nan A. Talese May 2017
352 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, June 12, 2017

It's Monday and I read three books this week!

Hello again! How is everyone doing? It's been a busy and productive week around the literary house. I've been checking lots of things off of my to-do list, which is a lovely feeling. The weekend was busy, but good. We had a picnic after church (I made a pie) and then we relaxed at home. We finished Sunday night in the best way possible, by watching the Tony Awards of course!

This week I read Waking Gods, which is the sequel to Sleeping Giants. I enjoyed it just as much as the first book and am now impatiently waiting for the last book in the trilogy to come out. I also read Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield and Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan.

On the blog this week, I wrote a review of A Bridge Across the Ocean and I wrote a post about Jami Attenberg's new book All Grown Up and how the protagonist is being held up as the long-awaited single female protagonist.

Now I'm reading Marilynne Robinson's Home

 

What are you reading this week?

Friday, June 9, 2017

Thoughts on All Grown Up and Single Protagonists

Jami Attenberg's All Grown Up has been heralded as a much-needed addition to modern literature. The book's protagonist is a woman named Andrea who is nearing her 40s and is unmarried and without children. In the world of books, this makes her somewhat of a unique protagonist and readers are (rightly) clamoring to read more stories about women who make the choice to not marry or become mothers.

But after reading this book, I wonder if this is really the story about singleness that we want. I will never dispute that Jami Attenberg is a deeply gifted writer. I greatly enjoyed her book Saint Maisie and the writing in All Grown Up is a pleasure to read. But if we are holding up the character of Andrea as symbolic of singleness, I find myself feeling very worried and a little sad.

Andrea is a mess. The cover copy talks about the different perceptions of adulthood that everyone around her seems to hold; the problem is that Andrea seems to hold none at all. She is single not because she does not want to be in a long term relationship, but rather because she sabotages the ones she is in. She knows that she drinks too much and occasionally gives therapy a whirl, but seems to abandon it almost immediately. She hates her job, but does nothing to get a different one or even to find a hobby or activity that would give her some joy or sense or purpose. 

The buzz surrounding this book hails Andrea as someone who defies social expectations by choice. That is a book I want to read. But this story seems to be rather about a woman who is stuck and doesn't know what to do. She has no idea how to make a life for herself. She clings to her own mother, while ignoring or actively shunning her best friend and brother who have recently become parents. She regularly complains about, cancels plans with, or is cruel to the people in her life and then acts shocked when they don't make time for her in their lives. Andrea worries frequently that she's not grown-up because she hasn't checked off specific boxes in life. As a reader, the only way I wanted her to grow up was to learn how to better take care of herself and the people in her life. 

I wanted Andrea to be happy. I wanted her to make better choices when it came to her relationships with her family, friends, and lovers. I wanted her to find a job that didn't make her miserable and realize that she too was allowed to do things that made her feel fulfilled. Andrea used to be an artist and later in the book, she tell us why she abandoned it. I found myself wishing that someone had told her (and many other people) that loving art or music or acting doesn't mean you have to do those things professionally. There is room in life for things that just make us happy. 

Let's not hold Andrea Bern up as the single protagonist we've all been waiting for. I hope instead to read about characters who are making the choice to not get married or start families who are working towards goals, achieving amazing things, and learning about themselves and the world in which they live. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Review: A Bridge Across the Ocean

Brette Caslake has a unique gift: she can see and hear ghosts. When a former classmate asks her for a favor, she visits the RMS Queen Mary. The ship carried hundreds of war brides from Europe to American after World War II and is rumored to be haunted. When Brette digs into the past, she makes unexpected discoveries about two women who roomed together on that voyage. Simone Devereux became an orphan when her father died for the French Resistance and now she is going to meet the wounded American who fell in lover with her. Her roommate on the ship is Annaliese Lange, a German ballerina who still seems to be looking over her shoulder.

In A Bridge Across the Ocean, we have another historical fiction/present day story. Meissner does this dual narrative better than most writers. The stories of Simone and Annaliese in particular are very well-written. I would have read an entire book about either one of them and anxiously turned pages to find out what happened to them. Both women faced horrible things during the war and the end of the war doesn't necessarily mean the end of danger.

In the present, we witness Brette dealing with her ability to interact with ghosts. A dual narrative story with ghosts would usually be just the thing to make me put a book aside, but Meissner pulls it off with aplomb. While you may not be convinced that ghosts exist (much less interact with people), Brette's difficulties make it clear just how much it could mess up your life if they did.

A Bridge Across the Ocean is a great addition to the shelves of historical fiction fans. The focus on war brides' brave journey to a new country to be reunited with husbands they hardly knew is a unique and compelling one, and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you reading until the final secret is revealed.

A Bridge Across the Ocean
By Susan Meissner
Berkley Books March 2017
368 pages
Read for the She Reads Book Club