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Where The Crawdads Sing educates as it mystifies

Isn’t it a lovely feeling when you read a book and finish it with a profound sense of satisfaction and enjoyment. That’s how I felt when I closed the cover on Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I thought . . . WOW! That was amazing. The New York Times best-seller was on my list but not a priority until my friend Nancy mentioned how much she loved it. Then I moved it to the top of the list. Delia Owens is a nature writer and wildlife scientist with several non-fiction books to her credit. This is her first novel. Owens grew up in Georgia and now lives in rural Idaho close to the natural world she loves.

The story takes place in the marshes of North Carolina’s low country. The main character, Kya is the youngest of a family of five children living in a rural shack with a mentally unstable mother and a drunken, abusive father. One by one her older siblings and eventually her mother leaves until there’s just six-year-old Kya left with her father. They live an isolated life with no electricity, plumbing or even sources of food. Her father’s meagre veteran’s pension usually goes for liquor but some is spared to buy grits. The father disappears for days and weeks at a time, eventually never returning at all and Kya is left to live a feral existence, challenged to provide for herself.

She attends school for only one day at the age of seven after being forced into town by the truant officer. But she’s so humiliated by other children for her lack of knowledge and dirty appearance she never returns. Known locally as The Marsh Girl, Kya ekes out an existence by selling mussels she digs on the beach and using the money to buy grits, matches and other basics. Eventually, she strikes up a friendship with a local boy, Tate who had once been a friend of her brother Jodie. Tate shares her fascination with marsh wildlife, biology and nature. When he learns she cannot read or write, he undertakes teaching her, giving her school text books to read and study. Over the years, her knowledge grows to the point she becomes an expert on marsh life but remains isolated in her tiny shack.

Delia Owens, author of Where The Crawdads Sing.

Naturally, she falls in love with Tate but he disappoints her by leaving her like everyone else in her life, when he goes to university in Chapel Hill. Kya strikes up a relationship with Chase, the town football star and all-round rogue. Then, Chase is found dead at the foot of an abandoned watch tower in the woods. Was it murder or an accident. Evidence points to Kya but was she really responsible?

The story is full of flaws but it is only a story so I just let myself go with it. It’s hard to imagine a young girl surviving alone in the woods who grows up to be a beauty and writes best-selling nature books with no formal education. How could each family member leave without taking a helpless six-year-old with them? There are plenty of bones to pick with plot issues. But it is a good story. I’m not a fan of courtroom dramas but in a murder mystery it’s impossible to avoid. The trial is obviously integrel to the plot with a white knight lawyer appearing out of nowhere. Just let the inconsistencies go. The ending is wonderful and while the story is implausible, I’d give the book 8 out of 10. Loved it.

To order Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens from Amazon, click here.(Disclosure: If you order through this link you will get their best price and I may receive a teeny tiny commission from Amazon.)

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Rachel Hollis urges us to stop apologizing . . . and more

Reading a book by lifestyle guru Rachel Hollis is like administering a massive shot of adrenaline, followed by another and another. The blonde, female version of Tony Robbins is a thirty-seven-year-old Christian mother of four with long blonde extensions, an energy level that’s off the scale and a message that is relevant not only to her demographic but to old boomer broads like me. I first saw her on CTV’s The Social when she was promoting her earlier book Girl, Wash Your Face. I read it last year and bought it for a granddaughter hoping she would find it as inspiring as I did. I rarely bookmark as many pages in a book as I did in Girl, Wash Your Face. While Hollis’s latest book Girl, Stop Apologizing is every bit as inspiring as her earlier book, I did find the earlier book more precise in laying out her message and a strategy for moving forward. She summed up each chapter with the points she wanted to make. Her new book, Girl, Stop Apologizing is a personal growth shot in the arm and chock full of rambling anecdotes that will rev you up and induce you to make notes as you’re reading.

Hollis is the daughter of a pastor and the product of an unhappy marriage. She couldn’t wait to finish high school and leave home. She shares very personal details of her journey and uses her past mistakes, lack of experience and lessons learned to formulate a solid go-forward plan for young women. She’s lived through being overweight, having health challenges, marriage bumps in the road and all the other obstacles that life throws in front of each of us at some time along the way.

It’s impossible to not be inspired by a young woman who successfully created and grew an event planning business, then a multi-media motivational business into a multi-million dollar enterprise. She accomplished this with no formal college or university degree and no family connections to move her to third base. But that doesn’t mean she’s not smart or educated. Hollis is constantly reading and developing her own skill set through seminars, business conventions and other personal growth endeavours.

When I went back to the book to reference some particularly good parts I’d bookmarked, I discovered dozens of pages and quotations, too many to begin to relate here, so I’m grabbing a few at random to share with you.

Being busy and still having time for yourself is possible.
  • On being too busy: You are in control of your schedule. In fact, there isn’t one thing in your life or your calendar right now that you didn’t allow to be there. That’s on you. How are you using the time you have? . . . The first step is to get over the excuse that you don’t have the time. The next step is to reconfigure the time you do have in order to achieve the goal you’re after.
  • Dreams and ambitions: If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.
  • SelflessnessLadies, you get one chance at this . . and you have no idea when your chance might be over. You cannot waste it living only for everyone else. The problem is most women I know don’t struggle to show up for others; they struggle to show up for themselves. It’s not your job to make sure someone else is happy.
  • Self-improvementYou should surround yourself with people who are better than you in the areas you want to improve in. You should hope that your good stuff rubs off on them and their good stuff rubs off on you. You are the combination of the five people you hang out with most. Choose wisely.

Hollis has written her own version of a mission statement with her priorities cleared spelled out:

  • Myself, my personal growth and my faith.
  • My husband and our commitment to an exceptional marriage.
  • My children and my commitment to be an exceptional mother.
  • My work and larger mission to give women the tools to change their lives.

She offers a simple hand-drawn road map with mile markers for setting our goals and achieving them, stressing that we owe no apologies to anyone for our choices. How we dress, how we spend our time, how we interact with family, friends and the greater world is entirely up to us and requires no explanations to anyone. Reading Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis is like having her take you by the shoulders and drum some common sense into you. Girl, Wash Your Face was more strategic; Girl, Stop Apologizing is more motivational. I preferred the first over the second and found Stop Apologizing to be riddled with cliché motivational messages but it did rev me up. I’d give it 7 out 10. Definitely give it a read.

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Nazi hunters pursue The Huntress in tale of revenge

As a fan of historical fiction, I just love it when I get my hands on a book I can’t put down. That was the case with The Huntress by New York Times bestselling author Kate Quinn, who also wrote The Alice Network. The story links three disparate female characters and a British journalist from different backgrounds in a series of events that take place between the early 1940s and early 1950s. The author has drawn from the lives of real people and events to create a mystery that gets resolved by bringing the three women together.

Nina Markova is a feral Russian raised in the wilds of Siberia in an unloving family. Her only hope for any kind of life is to head west and escape a miserable future of life-threatening winters and Stalinist oppression. When she encounters a downed airplane in the Siberian wilderness, she is fascinated with the pilot’s story and the prospect of flying a plane. When her drunken father nearly kills her, she escapes west with the goal of learning to fly. She eventually becomes part of Russia’s elite corps of women pilots charged with flying night bombing missions over approaching German forces in western Russia. They were known as The Night Witches by German soldiers who were the victims of their nighttime raids. The women aviators would turn off the engines of their planes before they silently descended to drop their bombs so their victims would not know where they were or where they were coming from. These expert women pilots with nerves of steel would then restart their engines and go back to base for refuelling, often flying as many as eighteen missions in a single night.

While Nina is bombing Germans during World War II, Lorelei Vogt, the mistress of a senior Nazi SS officer is furthering Hitler’s insane programs by conducting party games that involve hunting and shooting escaped Jews, allied soldiers and other so-called enemies of the Reich in Poland. Even children are not too precious to escape her murderous sights. When she kills the younger brother of British war correspondent Ian Graham in cold blood, she lines herself up in his sights after the war when he works as a free-lance Nazi hunter.

Jordan McBride is the daughter of the Boston-based owner of an antiques shop who meets and marries Lorelei Vogt after the war when she escapes using false identities with thousands of other war criminals to America. When Jordan finishes high school she is discouraged by her father from pursuing a career in photojournalism because he thinks she would be better off marrying her local boyfriend and living a simple life as a housewife and mother. Suspecting that her new stepmother is not all she appears to be, Jordan bonds with Lorelei’s young daughter Ruthie while keeping a cautious eye on the secret life of her stepmother.

The author has mingled real-life events and condensed real-life characters into composites to tell a story that is fascinating, horrifying and engaging. Nina Markova is the most fascinating of the main characters and despite the gruesome subject matter, her journey is punctuated with love, humour and adventure that is a joy to read. There are certainly flaws. The romantic episodes are a tad cliché and somewhat gratuitous. Portions of the plot turns seem implausible but it is just a story and despite the shortcomings, it kept me engaged the entire time. I was constantly pushing on to see if The Huntress would be caught. And if she was, would she be the subject of revenge or justice. Next on my “To Read” list is “The Alice Network”. Kate Quinn certainly knows how to write a great story. I’d give it 8 out of 10.

To order The Huntress from Amazon click here.

You pay Amazon’s best price and I get a teeny, tiny commission. Thanks.

To order my latest book, BOOMER BEAT from Amazon, click here.

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Becoming Michelle Obama is inspirational and insightful

How does a lowly little blogger like me properly do justice to a lady like Michelle Obama? Santa brought me a hardcover copy of her memoir Becomingand although it was a hefty read, it was worth it. Like Tara Westover (author of Educatedand J.D. Vance (author of Hillbilly Elegy), Michelle Robinson Obama is a product of humble beginnings and hard work, always a fascinating subject for me. While she didn’t endure the same challenges as Westover or Vance, she faced the constant underlying obstacle of being born black in a country that is still racist. Her advantage is that she came from a strong family unit that stayed together, worked hard and valued education. These intrinsic strengths enabled her to perform at and above expectations. She’s strongly proud of her roots in Chicago’s south side and credits this background with motivating her.

From an early age Michelle Robinson understood that education and achievement were fundamental to advancing in life. Born with sharp intellect and into a supportive family, she excelled at school to the extent that when she graduated high school, she was accepted into elite Princeton University. Lacking specific goals beyond proving herself good enough and smart enough, she defaulted to studying law. But her career choice proved to be unsatisfying and contrary to her values. The singular outstanding achievement during her time working at a prestigious Chicago law firm was meeting an unusual young law student who worked temporarily for the same firm. His name was Barack Obama.

While Michelle came from a Leave It To Beaver close-knit family, Barack’s family was fragmented and scattered around the world. Blending their different backgrounds took some adjustment. Their early years included marriage counselling, fertility treatments and financial hardship, not uncommon challenges for young couples starting out.

Michelle Obama outlines the experiences they both underwent beginning with their early community service work to ultimately becoming the most powerful couple in the world. She describes each stage of the progression in detail and without restraint. The last half of the book is the most interesting as it covers their political life but reading the story of how they came to be in that position at that particular time is informative and relevant. Any book by a former First Lady is bound to be a best-seller but this one is particularly deserving, written by an exceptionally intelligent, articulate, reflective woman. Do yourself a favour and read it.

To order a copy of Becoming by Michelle Obama from Amazon, click here.

To order a copy of Educated by Tara Westover from Amazon, click here.

To order a copy of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance from Amazon, click here.

Disclosure: If you purchase a book from these links, I may (hopefully) receive a teeny, tiny commission from Amazon.

 

To order a copy of my new book BOOMER BEAT, click here. Ideal for a hostess gift, beach read, gift for a friend or possible Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Fannie Flagg is more than Fried Green Tomatoes

Most boomer gals loved the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. In fact, many of us have watched it several times since its original release in theatres in 1991 (Yikes—nearly thirty years ago!). With stars that included Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Sally Field and the wonderful Kathy Bates, the movie was a screen adaptation of an original book by Fannie Flagg. It was based on a real-life railroad whistle stop restaurant owned by her late aunt. Until a couple of weeks ago I didn’t realize Ms. Flagg had written several other books and when I downloaded The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion I was delighted to find another author worth reading.

The story begins with the main character, modern-day Sarah Poole, a.k.a. Sookie, a typical southern homemaker as she marries off the last of her three daughters. Interestingly, as I was reading this book, I could so easily picture Kathy Bates playing this character in a movie version. When she shockingly learns at the age of sixty that she was adopted as a baby by her eccentric, domineering southern mother, her entire world pivots off its axis. She’s no longer the custodian of her southern heritage and is somewhat appalled that her birth mother was of Polish stock, not a Daughter of the American Revolution.

Women’s war work extended far beyond knitting socks. WASPs were a vital but low profile part of the war effort.

Set mainly in Alabama, Wisconsin and California, the story is a fictional account of real women who were heroes on the homefront during World War II and their descendents. The Jurdabralinksi family lived in a community of Polish immigrants who settled in Pulaski, Wisconsin early in the twentieth century. They capitalized on the economic growth of automobiles by opening a filling station to support the family. When the family’s only son, Wink, left to go overseas at the start of the Second World War, the four daughters in the family took over the filling station and even managed to increase business during difficult times of gas rationing. The oldest sister, Fritzie, who is a bit of non-conformist rebel befriends a civilian stunt pilot who hires her as his wing walker. She soon learns to fly the plane and becomes an accomplished aviator who eventually also  teaches her younger sisters how to fly. This is the family that Sookie learns she was born into. We learn about the circumstances of Sookie’s birth to one of the amazing Jurdabralinski sisters and what happened to her birth mother.

Each of the four sisters became part of the WASPs, an unacknowledged female branch of the military charged with transporting airplanes from the manufacturing plant to and between military bases in the southern United States during the war when women weren’t allowed to join active duty. These highly skilled women were not recognized at the time for their heroic work. When Sookie learns this is the stock from which she descended, she’s considerably assuaged and decides to try and arrange a meeting with her birth mother. The story straddles two time periods, World War II and the present, and the dialogue is representative of each period in time. It’s educational, poignant and at times humourous. I really enjoyed it and rate it 8 out of 10.

To order The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion from Amazon, click here.

 

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Reese Witherspoon’s Whiskey in a Tea Cup is delicious beyond words

Every so often we come across a book that is total escapism. When I read Hollywood actor Reese Witherspoon’s Whiskey in a Tea Cup I was released into a world of southern ladies preparing high-calorie comfort foods and relaxing on wide, breezy porches sipping mint juleps. The title is a metaphor for strong southern ladies in delicate, feminine packaging. Same idea as steel magnolias. This is one of those books that embraces you right from the get-go. It’s a combination of lifestyle, memoir, decorating, fashion, culture and down-home cooking in perfect harmony. And the photography is a visual feast.

Strong southern women, in fact strong women in general, are often the daughters and granddaughters of strong women. Following in the footsteps of their mothers and grandmothers, today’s women embrace and respect the traditions of earlier generations while painting their own lives with modern and progressive brush strokes. Witherspoon shares the history of her southern roots to create a beautiful and evocative mural of genteel living.

This southern belle is more than a pretty face.

This book is not a Hollywood memoir with a chronology of lovers, movies and name-dropping. It’s a sharing of lifestyle and personal experiences in the company of family and friends. We’re given a brief family history which builds to sharing of family recipes and traditions. Witherspoon appreciates and values her relationships with long-time girlfriends and they are part of the thread of her everyday life. Entertaining is the essence of southern hospitality and she shares menus, recipes, decorating and even suggests music playlists she’s created to enhance the southern experience.

Witherspoon has a busy life outside of her acting career. The mother of three has her own retail line, “Draper James”; she hosts a popular on-line book club and in 2016 established Hello Sunshine, a female-oriented media brand and content company dedicated to female authorship and storytelling across all platforms.

The book is “Martha-esque” in format but much more welcoming and casual. Many of the wonderful recipes include such low-tech ingredients as Cool Whip. I’ve tried a couple already and next on my list is her Summer Squash Casserole. All are exquisitely photographed.

Michael from Stratford, Ontario learned a thing or two about baby boomer women in BOOMER BEAT that surprised him.

I originally downloaded Whiskey in a Tea Cup from the library and loved the book so much I decided I should have my own copy for future reference so I purchased it from Amazon (where it was cheaper than the big box store). In fact, I also bought it for a couple of friends I knew would love it as much as I do. It’s a 9 out of 10 and would make a wonderful gift, not only for yourself, but as a Christmas, hostess or birthday gift. Enjoy, y’all.

Click here to order Whiskey in A Teacup by Reese Witherspoon from Amazon.

To order a copy of my latest book BOOMER BEAT from Amazon, click here.→

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