Book Snippets:

The Girls from Ames: Jeffrey Zaslow, Gotham Press, 2009. Available also in Kindle and 4/10 available in paperback.

I picked up this non-fiction sociological study of female friendship because I wanted a bit more background and research on the topic for my Women's Fiction work in progress. The fact that the author had worked with Randy Pautsch with his The Last lecture which I loved also helped me make the decision.

This book is not a dry and statistics laden tome. It is wonderful reading and often reaffirmed or expanded on my own observations regarding friendships. I found myself highlighting pages that were so meaningful to me. I felt when the book neared its end that I had read a book which pulled me into the world of the women in the book and I hated to see the book end. Just as I would a novel that is a compelling read. I'd call this a must read for all women, and a great gift for mothers to give their twenty-something daughters.

The Secret of Everything. Barbara O'Neal. 2009. Bantam. Trade paper and Kindle versions.

The heroine of this book resembles the Wise Woman I write about in my latest essay on the Wise Woman page. No, I don't know Ms. O'Neal but as I was reading her book and watching her character of Tessa Harlow unfold, I thought "yes, she's making the journey." Her book is filled with marvelous characters from the 8-year-old Natalie, to her fantastic use of dogs and cats within the story to bring out character traits in her humans. The recipes are very interesting—all breakfast related and the setting for the novel, northern New Mexico can't be beat. I loved this book so much I bought two more copies to give as gifts.

The White Queen: Novel: The Cousins' War. Philippa Gregory, 2009, Touchstone. Also available in Kindle.

I love history and I've always been intrigued by the War of the Roses historical period in England. The promotional blurb sounded very interesting and so I bought this and read it. I wasn't disappointed. Not from the historical details that were there but subtly woven in to the plot which is based on historical fact and figures but dealt with in a fictional manner. It reminded me of the books I loved by Anya Seton, Thomas Costain, Frank Yerby and others which I read long ago.

The book is long but chapters are relatively short and breaks allow for busy readers' schedules. The plot line can be depressing when you realize how much war and being on the right side governed the lives of everyone no matter their rank during this time.

The Lacemakers of Glenmara. Heather Barbieri. Harper. 2009. Hardcover and Kindle.

Being of Irish heritage and remembering that my beloved Grandmother made lace, I was immediately attracted to this book by its title. Then I read the blurb and bought it immediately. I wasn’t disappointed.

Think contemporary rural coastal Ireland. A small village facing problems of dwindling employment, an exodus of young people to the larger cities, the clashes that arise between clutching to the old traditions or adapting to new ideas. In the book, this major clash centers around the making and marketing of the lace and the tyranny of the village priest.

These simmering issues ignite around the appearance of an American woman on a journey to connect with her roots to find how best to reinvent herself. She’s welcomed by one of the lacemakers who’s also at a crossroads after her husband dies. Building the relationship between these two women, the lacemakers and other villages fills out the pages of this wonderful book. Learning a bit about the lace making brought memories of my watching my grandmother and her stories about her mother and grandmother who also made Irish lace.

If you want a novel rich in detail, characterization, great setting, and a good plot, look for this one. You won’t be disappointed.

Shanghai Girls. Author Lisa See. Random House. 2009. Available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle.

I have a master's in Chinese History. I was familiar with the events occurring in China during the time setting for this book. However, I learned a great deal about how Chinese lived and were treated in the US, particularly related to the California setting with this novel. Two sisters, born in Shanghai and consider themselves very modern in 1937 which is where the novel opens. Early on you see the sisters living a very cosmopolitan life in Shanghai right before the Japanese invasion. This life is contrasted to their home life with very traditional parents and household.

All too soon, because of their father's gambling debts, the girls entered arranged marriages to young men who have US citizenship but very strong traditional ties to China. The marriages are seen by their father as keeping Chinese traditions alive in America.

The girls are left in Shanghai to follow their new husbands and his father in a few weeks. Those weeks see the Japanese enter Shanghai, the death of their father and mother and the young women fleeing for their lives. What they endure to arrive in San Francisco and the humiliations they suffer during their internment on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay set the stage for the next several years when they are eventually re-united with their husbands and the family. They learn that in many ways the lives they live in the US are less free than the ones they had in China. Learning to adapt to the traditional ways of the new extended family and the expectations of them as Chinese wives engrossed me for the rest of the book.

Ms. See’s research in this area is well-documented and explained well in her extensive Acknowledgements and biography. A keeper of a book. With an ending leaving me waiting for her next one.