Monthly Archives: May 2014

*** Family Secrets by Deborah Cohen


Family Secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain traces the evolution of privacy and secrecy in Britain through several examples, nicely researched: adoption and illegitimate births, mixed-race children brought back from India, divorce, disabled children, and homosexuality. The author shows how very liberated Victorians were on many of these topics compared to their children and grandchildren in the early 20th century, and how individuals and families suffered through secrets as well as their exposure beyond the intimate sphere. She shows how privacy is important, even in an era where secrets have been declared to be hurtful. Warmly recommended!

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Filed under Non fiction

** The Slippage by Ben Greenman


In The Slippage, William and Louisa have been married for a long time but Louisa seems depressed and bizarrely wants to buy a house on mysteriously inherited land while William cracks funny jokes but seems to disregard her absence. And it does not get much better, affairs and lost jobs and assorted lies later. The story is well written, the characters, especially the husband, utterly believable, and the whole thing is gloomy. Even the dog dies. Avoid on days when you need a pick-me-up.

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** Forcing the Spring by Jo Becker


Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality gives a detailed history of the challenge to California’s Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage, a series of lawsuits that went all the way to the Supreme Court and brought together two attorneys who had been on opposite sides of the Gore/Bush drama. The author does a good job of explaining both the strategies the lawyers chose to defend the case and also the larger context of how LGBT groups that had avoided discussing marriage equality found themselves more or less forced to take a stand because of this lawsuit.

The story is told, for me, in excruciating detail (who cares if the attorneys took a private plane or flew commercial to this meeting or another), and in a breathless tone that sounds rather forced. Still, it’s a most interesting story that shows the extent to which the justice system relies on human feelings and beliefs to work.

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*** If you Can by William Bernstein


If You Can: How Millennials Can Get Rich Slowly is a very short self-help book targeted at young adults on the crucial topic of retirement savings. The author does a marvelous job at simplifying his advice to a handful of points (start early, keep going, save enough, don’t try to be clever) that demystify personal finance and make it very easy to stop fretting and start saving. And at $1, the book won’t break the bank either. A great choice for a graduating college grad, accompanying that generous check that will be the first deposit into their Roth IRA…

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* Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed


The Black Mamba Boy of the title moves from Somalia (been there recently!) to Yemen, to Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan, Egypt, and Palestine, in search of his father at first, and eventually in search of a living — all the way to the UK. Although the hero is charming, especially as a young orphan, the story seems to be designed to highlight the ravages of World War II in Africa rather than a personal story. The Italian Fascists in Eritrea, check. The English presence in Kenya, check. Our hero on a British ship escorting Exodus 1947 (the ship laden with Jewish refugees bound for Palestine), check — and with it my internal quota of coincidences within a single plot runneth over.

 

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*** Kicking the Habit by Eleanor Stewart


Kicking the Habit is the plainly told memoir of a young woman who trained to be a Catholic nun in the early sixties, took her vows, but ended up leaving the monastic life after training as a nurse and midwife. I enjoyed the many vivid details of her training, from the fortnightly bathing schedule she was offered in the French convent where she trained to the delights of summer vacations with her fellow novices, but the story is much deeper, since her training took place in a time of great changes in the Catholic Church, after the Vatican II Council, which amongst many other adjustments required all monastic orders to review their charters and rules. Even during her training she sees the number of novices dropping precipitously as job opportunities for women outside the convent multiply — and indeed she shows many formidable women in charge of the convents where she trains and lives (formidable in positive as well as negative ways). Today, these women are CEOs!

The book would have benefited from some proof reading, as there are occasional repeated words and gross misspellings. But these defects do not detract from a great story.

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Filed under True story

* Fun without Dick and Jane by Christie Mellor


Fun without Dick and Jane: A Guide to Your Delightfully Empty Nest is a tongue-in-cheek guide to life without live-in children — but I found it neither funny enough to qualify as full-on humor nor weight enough to be actually helpful. It seems to speak entirely to stay-home moms to exhort them to shed their sweatpants and minivans, stop fretting non-stop about their college students, and get a life free of the daily pressure of children activities and house work. Apart from a brief passage about, of all things, shedding their sweatpants, not a word about fathers.

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Filed under Non fiction