** The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner

The Bridge Ladies is the portrait of the set of friends of the author’s mother, who have known each other for decades and gotten together each Monday for lunch, bridge, and conversation. Lunch can now be held at a diner but used to be an elaborate affair at each woman’s home, in rotation. I found these women to be fascinating, as their stories unroll in flashbacks and often guarded conversations. Sadly, the author seems intent on applying her generation rules to them, and judges their choices rather harshly, when it would have been more effective to just tell the stories, I think. It is true that they pretty much gave up on careers, although they were well-educated and would have met with much success — but they don’t seem to resent it in the way younger women might. Why not just illustrate how a different view of the world makes for a completely different interpretation of the same facts?

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*** Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

In the spirit of the 100-Year Old Man Who Jumped Out of the Window, Britt-Marie Was Here is the apparently simple story of an apparently simple woman who transforms her life after walking away from her cheating husband and his controlling way. But unlike the 100-year old man, Britt-Marie encounters no gangs or elephants, just a bunch of kids in an economically depressed small town who love soccer and would love nothing more than a proper field. She will save the day, but slowly, never giving up her OCD ways, and never succumbing to an easy happy-ever-after ending. Lovely.

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* Face Value by Autumn Whitfield-Madrano

Is it possible that you do not already know that the beauty industry is big business? That women are socialized and often humiliated into obsessing about their looks? If not, Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives will enlighten you. And you will also hear about the author’s makeup at age 12 (makeup for a 12-year old? on a school day?), her rather disturbing letter to Ann Landers about her pretend-husband’s shaming her appearance (written at age 9, which makes her makeup at 12 so very tame), and her college scholarship essay about the biggest problem facing America today (women feeling insecure about their looks, of course!) You may want to find another book to read.

 

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** Liar by Rob Roberge

 

The author of Liar has lived a rough life. Two girlfriends were murdered. His wife suffers from an undiagnosed disease. And he is bipolar, addicted to an assortment of drugs, and has suffered from enough blackouts and concussions due to falls that it’s remakarble he is still alive. He seems to tell it all candidly, but since he is the first to note how he can rearrange the truth to suit him, the reader is never quite certain of what she is reading. It’s a rollicking story except when it’s tragic, and it’s hard not to feel sorry for the trials of the author, except perhaps when he inflicts them on himself.

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*** The War At Home by Rachel Starnes

Rachel Starnes’s father worked on oil rigs and was gone for weeks at a time, on dangerous missions. She hated it. So what does she do? She marries a Navy pilot who deploys on long, dangerous missions. In The War at Home: A Wife’s Search for Peace (and Other Missions Impossible), she talks about how she copes with the frequent moves, the deployments, raising children on her own, and, candidly, or her struggles with depression. It’s not a  downer, not at all. There are some hilarious moments and the author never takes herself too seriously.

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*** LaRose by Louise Erdrich

LaRose is a young boy whose father accidentally kills his best friend, and obeying Ojibwa tradition is “given” by his parents to his friend’s grieving parents. La Rose is also the name of his grandmother, and of many other ancestors in the matriarchy.  The story alternates between prosaic, everyday scenes in which LaRose and his sisters go to school, fight bullies, and play volleyball and dreamy retellings of the elder LaRose’s often horrific stories, all that mixed in with the sufferings of the two mothers. There are some wonderfully nuanced characters, in particular LaRose’s parents and the Catholic priest and ex-Marine who tries to keep the community together, and they are the ones who give the story its character rather than the plot itself.

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*** A Different Kind of Daughter by Maria Toorpakai

Maria Toorpakai is a world-class squash player. That might be enough to write an interesting biography, but A Different Kind of Daughter: The Girl Who Hid from the Taliban in Plain Sight is not your standard athlete’s story, as Toorpakai is Pashtun, born in the tribal area of Pakistan to (lucky her) enlightened parents but (very unlucky her) at a time when the Taliban mercilessly harassed and killed women who dared want to do something else than stay indoors, cook, clean, and bear children. With her parents’ help, she started her training dressed as a boy, but eventually had to escape to Canada. The story is hair-raising. Be warned: it regularly lapses into strange poetic ruminations that seem rather out-of-place for a young girl or teenager, but perhaps it’s just a cultural gap. Worth reading for the fantastic force of character of the author.

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