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A Well-Read Woman is Dangerous

Well, that title caught your attention. Sorry, but my image and quote for this month’s book reviews made me laugh.

A well-read woman is a dangerous creature.

I seriously love it when someone tries to argue with me. I read a variety of book genres. I read newspapers and magazines. I mean, don’t even try to argue with me about the Mueller Report. I read it. Basically, if you want to argue like a pro- Read. A. Lot. My book choices this month are so diverse! Memoir, historical fiction, family fiction, and how to brew beer fiction. (That last one was my favorite!)

Book Reviews- a memoir, historical fiction, two family dramas, and The Lager Queen of Minnesota. All great reads. Check this post for the details.

In this post, for your convenience, you may find Amazon Affiliate links to resources. This means that with your purchase of items Amazon will pass on small percentages to me. This will not create extra costs for you at all! It will help me keep this blog running!

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur

The author, called Rennie, is awakened one evening by her mother telling her, “Ben Souther just kissed me.” Rennie, at age 14, becomes her mother’s confidante and accessory to her affair with Ben.

This seems an interesting premise for a book, but it’s real life.

This is Ms. Brodeur’s memoir of her life with this mother that treated her with such carelessness at such an impressionable age. Rennie becomes her mother’s accomplice as she lies and covers up her escapades over many years. All the while Malabar (mom’s name!) is just waiting for the expected deaths of her husband and Ben’s wife. Both of these people have illnesses – with Charles it is age-related and involves an aneurysm that could burst at any time. With Ben’s wife, it is cancer that affects her voice. Malabar’s ultimate life goal is to marry Ben.

This dysfunctional situation becomes even more ludicrous as Malabar decides to write a cookbook using the animals (wild game) killed by Ben. This means that the Souther’s visit their Cape Cod home often in order to create the recipes. This also means that Rennie will be involved even more in creating situations that put Malabar and Ben together while their spouses are doing something else. Oh my, and there is more.

The eventual marriage of Rennie to a person I will not reveal is going to make you raise your eyebrows quite a bit. Now, can I recommend this book?  It is written well and was a book I enjoyed as an audio-read. It was narrated by Julia Whelan- a narrator that makes every book better! At the end of the book, the author and narrator have a discussion that I found fascinating. Ms. Whelan spoke to Ms. Brodeur before beginning her recording – specifically asking her the tone of voice of some of the characters so that she could recreate them well. They also talked about the way the book is written. It does not read like a memoir but a work of fiction.

I give it 4 stars- only because there is so much to the story we never learn. You should definitely try this memoir!

Moloka’i by Alan Brennart

The story begins in the 1890s in beautiful Honolulu. Rachel is seven when she discovers a mark on her thigh. She thinks it is nothing but then her mother sees it. Her mother knows this is a lesion or ‘bruise’ that might be the beginning of leprosy.

She tries to keep the mark bandaged. Then one day Rachel’s sister announces on the playground at school that Rachel is a leper. What follows is heartbreaking. Rachel is tested and is found to have leprosy. She is loaded on a boat to Moloka’i- to join the hundreds of others that are quarantined far away from the homes and families on the other islands.

Rachel is 8 years old.

Underage children are housed in an orphanage-type dwelling and cared for by the nuns from the church nearby. They are schooled, live together, play together, and watch each other as the lesions and disease take their toll. Rachel sees many of her friends grow too sick to survive. Rachel’s father does visit her from time to time and her mother writes to her in the beginning. In later years she hears nothing from her mother or siblings. Her dad still visits and sends her gifts. There is so much more to the story that I will not reveal. Rachel bears her disease, the deaths of friends and loved ones, and the constant caring of one another with strength and resilience. It takes time to reconcile this life but eventually she says,

“I used to wonder, why did God give children leprosy? Now I believe: God doesn’t give anyone leprosy. He gives us, if we choose to use it, the spirit to live with leprosy, and with the imminence of death.”

I will be honest and tell you there were events in this book that were intriguing and I learned a lot about leprosy and about the leper colonies. There were also parts that were just unnecessarily tragic. It was tragic enough without throwing in extra disasters.

I give it 4 stars just for the unbelievable parts of this historical fiction book.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

The chapters in this little book are woven together and develop as you read. Each is its own story with rich characters that are experiencing the highs and lows of life. In the middle of it is Olive. She is a retired teacher in the small town of Crosby, Maine, living with her husband, Henry. They have one adult son, Christopher.

This book is Olive’s story, but we learn about her through the eyes of the other characters. Each chapter unfolds with insight into a character and how that person is part of Olive’s life.

Olive is brutally honest and forthright and speaks her mind. It seems that she is disliked by many people, although some just fear her. This book took a few chapters for me to understand the style and also remember who the characters were. After about 40 pages I was mesmerized by the writing and the people and Olive’s behavior.

“She glanced at Mary, and the woman’s face was tired and noncombative, the remains of sympathy there. It was like a sheet of paper on which marks of something simple and honest had been drawn.”

Herein lies the conundrum that is Olive. She is mean, acerbic, and yet has moments of clearly understanding the suffering or depression or melancholy of her “friends”. You either dislike her or you don’t. I had trouble deciding if her honesty was honest or just an excuse to always be in charge of situations. She did seem to be a tad of a bully at times. And then, she would help someone.

In the end, I think this book is just exceptionally well written. I would definitely recommend that you try this book! 5 stars for this family fiction- although quite realistic.

And now for the sequel…
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

This sequel was disappointing for me. Olive is in her seventies and married again. The chapters alternate between Olive and the townspeople and her part in their lives- even when it is a small part. With this sequel, I found that many of the chapters about other people contained stories that were just unnecessary topics.

For a family that has estranged daughters, it is discovered that one daughter is now a dominatrix and graphic details are included about what she does for men. It was very distracting and just didn’t fit the book and its characters.

This is only one example of parts where I found myself just rolling my eyes. I can only give this one 3 stars- there were still parts that were beautifully conveyed. Read the first one and skip the second one!

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

This story of a remarkable bond between siblings was an audiobook for me, read by Tom Hanks. The story was compelling and his voice, as Danny, was excellent. I do think he added emotion to his reading, especially at the end- where I know I heard his voice break.

The Dutch House was purchased by Danny’s dad, Cyril. Although it was very large and seemed beyond their means dad delivered his family to the home and presented it to them- perhaps never realizing that his young wife did not like this new home for many reasons. How Cyril was able to afford this house is revealed later in the book.

Danny and his sister, Maeve, were young children when their mother left them. The children were cared for by their nanny, Fluffy, and two housekeepers before the mother left and in her absence. As some time went by the father remarried and brought Andrea and her daughters into the Dutch House.

It is in this tumultuous situation that Danny and Maeve learned to rely on one another and when Andrea throws them out of the house as young adults they grow even closer. Having no parents to care for them the siblings have each other. Their relationship is tested when Danny meets Celeste and falls in love.

How does Maeve feel about this? To put it mildly, the two women do not like one another. This continues for quite some time and yet, during an emergency, Celeste is the person that takes care of Maeve. The book covers five decades of this family- the good and the bad. Danny and Maeve visit the Dutch House as they grow older- just viewing it from afar and reliving their moments in this strange setting. They talk of their younger days and wonder what they have lost in not continuing to live in the house.

I think, in the end, that the book is about our perception of what we had as children, and it doesn’t always coincide with what is real. The book is beautiful, haunting, and somewhat sad. It is worth your time to experience this amazing author. 5 stars for this amazing family fiction!

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

The story of Edith and Helen, two sisters that do not communicate and haven’t for a very long time, is told in alternating point-of-view chapters. The two sisters took very different paths in life and are now in their sixties as this story begins.

Edith is a kind-hearted woman that bakes pies for a local nursing home. The nursing home has lines out the door of visitors that come just to get a piece of her pie. In fact, some of the nursing home residents have “fake” family members that pay them to be able to come and eat. Sadly, Edith’s husband, Stanley, must retire due to an illness. Shortly after this, the two move to a neighboring town. Edith continues to work in the new town in order to pay their bills.

In the meantime, Helen has wanted to make beer her entire life. In college, she chooses to major in chemistry – in order to understand how to make beer. She marries someone that can make this happen. Their father bequeathed the family farm only to Helen, leaving Edith out of this inheritance. The father had reasons for doing this and you will learn this as you read. Helen sells the farm in order to finance her brewery.

The two sisters do not communicate ever. They do not meet each other’s husbands or attend family funerals. Helen never meets Edith’s children or grandchild. Helen is busy trying to make Blotz Brewery profitable and Edith is just trying to keep her bills paid.

More family members are part of the story throughout the book. Edith’s granddaughter, Diana, comes to live with her as a teenager. Diana has her own problems and works to help Edith pay bills. Diana’s brief scrape with rebellion leads her to make a career choice – that I won’t reveal.

One fun thing about this book is the title of each chapter. Titles are all amounts of money and the amount is part of the story of that chapter.

This is one of those books I did not want to end. I looked forward to reading it and knew I would miss the characters when it was over. I cried at the end for many reasons. Definitely 5 stars for this ‘how to brew beer’ fiction book. It was my favorite this month!

Start with any of these books for an enjoyable read! And be prepared to argue with anyone 🙂

My rating system: 5 stars means perfection- the book was written well, held my attention, and I did not want it to end. 4 stars- the book was really good, but I had questions or concerns about parts of it – usually the way it ended stupidly. 3 stars- the book was okay, but I just didn’t like it much. 2 stars- I skimmed most of it. 1 star- I could not finish it.

Book Reviews- a memoir, historical fiction, two family dramas, and The Lager Queen of Minnesota. All great reads. Check this post for the details.