Tag Archives: female authors

“Ship Fever” – stories by Andrea Barrett

Ship Fever: Stories

This is a collection. I’ve read about half the stories. Excellent! I’m postponing the title story, the longest in this anthology, until I’m ready to deal with disease and woe. Not today…

The back cover says the stories are “set against the backdrop of the nineteenth century”, but at least two are contemporary. The cover also says “…they illuminate the secret passions of those driven by a devotion to, and an intimate acquaintance with, the natural world.” Yes.

Barrett’s writing is concise to the point of compression.

“The Littoral Zone” is contemporary, it’s setting very much like a place where I have vacationed, offshore from Portsmouth, NJ. It tells the story of two scientists falling in love and dismantling their families in order to marry. It reminded me of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth. I appreciated its brevity.

I also especially liked “The English Pupil”, about Carl Linnaeus (creator of the binomial nomenclature we use to identify living organisms) in his old age, around the year 1775.

I read Barrett’s The Voyage of the Narwhal: A Novel several years ago. Loved it!

I plan to read further among Barrett’s books and other short story collections.

“Cocaine Blues” – Book 1 of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (aka A Phryne Fisher Mystery) by Kerry Greenwood, 2006

This book is the first in a series of mysteries. The tone is madcap. Phryne Fischer sometimes (annoyingly) reminds me of Catherine Hepburn in the early scenes of the movie “Bringing up Baby”. A real bitch. Entitled, as we say in the year 2020. A queen of conspicuous consumption. Fortunately, there’s more to Phryne.

The book takes place in Australia during the 1920s. Two prominent themes are drugs (cocaine, mostly) and illegal abortion. Fischer tackles both, and manages to get the better of some nasty bad guys.

A great book to read when you’re in the mood for a sassy heroine.

“UPSTREAM – Selected Essays” by Mary Oliver

Upstream: Selected Essays

“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.” A friend of mine has this message tattooed on her back. It’s a line from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day”.

When poet Mary Oliver died in January of 2019 (at the age of 83), my Facebook feed was flooded with tributes.

For Christmas this year, I asked for “UPSTREAM – Selected Essays” (2016), since I’m not a good (comfortable?) reader of poetry. In the first (title) essay, she describes wandering away from her family as a young child, wading up a stream and finding delight after delight, beauty and joy, “lost” but ecstatically happy. “I do not think that I ever, in fact, returned home.” Oliver’s biography describes a difficult childhood, and nature was a refuge.

Another refuge was reading. In “My Friend Walt Whitman” and “Some Thoughts on Whitman” she describes how she loved “his certainty, and his bravado” and his willingness to write about experiences that cannot be described in words, that are mystical. She also writes about Emerson and Poe.

Oliver’s reflections on “nature” emphasize relationship. In the essay “Bird” she talks about saving the life of an injured blackback gull. She knows the creature is doomed, but she keeps it alive and becomes attached to it. It is responsive. It even plays. But over time, it’s life slips away.

Some of Oliver’s work reminds me of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

“The Summer Day” ends with a line that echoes in my mind. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Today I spent two hours out of doors. Not a summer day, but still good.

“Earthly Delights” by Kerry Greenwood

Earthly Delights (Corinna Chapman Mysteries Book 1) by [Greenwood, Kerry]

Corinna Chapman Mysteries Book 1 – 2004 (First US Edition 2007)

This entertaining mystery takes place in Melbourne, Australia. Kerry Greenwood is like Janet Evanovich (author of the wacky Stephanie Plum novels, set in Trenton, NJ) but on uppers. Crazier, and lots of fun. The title “Earthly Delights” refers to Corinna’s business, a successful bakery. In place of Stephanie Plum’s idiosyncratic extended Italian family, Corinna lives in an apartment building full of (mostly) loveable eccentrics. She takes up stray teenagers and seemingly lost causes with gusto, and in the end, the good guys win. There are seven Corinna Chapman mysteries, the most recent published in 2018. I probably doesn’t matter what order I read them in.

Greenwood has published dozens of books. I’ve heard her Phryne Fisher historical mysteries series highly praised, so maybe I’ll try them next.

“Finding Dorothy” by Elizabeth Letts

Finding Dorothy: A Novel

This book was given to me when I made a purchase at an independent bookstore in North Carolina. There was a stack (several feet high) of pre-release volumes from which I was invited to choose. The official publication date is February 12, 2019. My copy is marked Advance Reader’s Edition. Maybe there’s too much competition if you release a book right before Christmas?

The “Dorothy” of this book is the heroine of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, who spoke the immortal words “I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more.” The book falls into the genre of fictionalized biography. (I disapprove, in principle…)

Elizabeth Letts begins by introducing Maud Gage Baum as an elderly woman, in 1938, during the months when The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by her deceased husband, was being rendered into a movie.

Flashbacks then reveal Maud Baum’s life story, beginning with her arrival at Cornell University in one of the first groups of women permitted to study there.

Many aspect of Maud Gage Baum’s life are distressing. She suffered from the rampant sexism of her day, poor medical care and economic instability. Her mother, Matilda Gage, was a well known suffragist at a time when the vote for women was widely considered a joke.

The book would be depressing, but L Frank Baum was such an engaging, imaginative and kind man that we understand how Maud was able to carry on.

One well developed theme was the Women’s Suffrage movement. Additionally, both Christian Science and spiritualism are touched in passing. Maud Baum lived in interesting times!

What about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? Letts describes Frank Baum as a man of vast creativity and optimism. His book is described in Wikipedia as “the first American fairy tale”. What a wonderful accolade! Its popularity was sensational. Children believed every word of it, loved it, read it, dreamed it.

Somehow, I never read the book and never even watched the movie all the way through. But now I feel inspired to do both. I think that makes Letts’s book a wonderful success.

PS: Why have I read two works recently in which a DOLL figures prominently? The Dorothy of Letts’s novel is not a person, but rather the beloved doll owned by Maud Baum’s suffering niece, who is tragically mired in poverty and loneliness. The doll is destroyed and Dorothy is reincarnated as an imaginary friend. Think about the doll in the Neapolitan novels of Elena Ferrante. Kind of witchy, right? Can anyone explain to me the end of that long saga, when the doll reappears?

“The Mountain Midwife” by L. Eakes and “The Secrets of Midwives” by S. Hepworth

How did I end up reading two books about midwives in the same month? Better not to speculate…

The first of these books was not worth the time it took to read it. Eakes is described (by Wikipedia) as a “romance author”. She does not do well by the genre. Her characters are relatively one dimensional. She’s got some kind of Christian/family values “agenda” going on which I found annoying.

The Secrets of Midwives was better. There are two main themes:

  • The joy and wonder of birth
  • The power of secrets, both to protect and to injure

Carrying these threads through three generations, Hepworth writes a gripping tale. Some of the romance was a bit trite, but overall this was a good read.

“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer

 

This book is a treat. It’s romantic without being sentimental. As England recovers from World War II, a young woman accidentally begins corresponding with a resident of the island of Guernsey, a part of Britain that fell under Nazi control during the War. She travels to meet her pen pal and finds the island beautiful and the people charming.

If you have ever belonged to a book group, you will love this novel! The “literary society” of the title emerges accidentally, when residents are caught out after an occupation curfew. They don’t stop reading and meeting when the War ends.

The island of Guernsey suffered cruelly under wartime conditions. Residents and occupiers alike were on the verge of starvation when the war ended. Winston Churchill refused to send humanitarian aid because he was afraid it would fall into enemy hands. My misgivings about Churchill grow stronger.

Enjoy this book!