Women’s Issues

Book Review: The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This as in no way influenced my opinion.

I am not sure why it has been so difficult for me to write this review, because I truly loved “The Boston Girl”. My local library has a program called My Librarian in which you can fill out a short survey on your reading history and receive either by call, personal visit, or email a personalized list of book suggestions. I linked my blog and Goodreads and listed Anita Diamant’s “The Red Tent” as one of my favorite historical fiction titles. Alice, the librarian I had chosen, suggested that I check out Diamant’s latest, “The Boston Girl” on NetGalley. I am glad she did. While I don’t think it stands up to magical epic quality of “The Red Tent” (if you enjoy historical fiction and have not read it, I highly recommend it), “The Boston Girl” has a warm personal feeling to it that kept me turning pages until I realized I was close to the end, and felt a sense of loss.

That personal feeling comes from Diamant’s choice in narrative voice. She cleverly places you in the position of a beloved and successful granddaughter who has just asked her grandmother to tell her how she became the woman she is for a school project. The narrator speaks to you with a voice filled with awe for the opportunities available to modern women as well as love and respect for her granddaughter. This is a coming of age story told from the point of view of an old woman who has had time to reflect on what truly brought her to womanhood. It is a deeply personal tale of the struggles of being a first generation American girl at the height of the suffragist movement. The themes of depression, love, loss, guilt, familial conflict, and hope are woven in, creating the tapestry of a true woman. Strong female friendships come and go, as they do in life, and Diamant tells it all in such a way that I almost felt like I could click on my browser and look up the protagonist’s biography.

Characters are only a part of the picture in any good novel. To me, they are the most important part, and I can ignore some lazy world building if I need to. With “The Boston Girl” I did not have to. The time period is painstakingly researched. Diamant did not go overboard on period slang, or descriptions of period pieces. Instead she chose to leave everything as natural and authentic as possible. I never once felt that the author was trying to make me believe the story took place in the 20s, and so I didn’t have to contend with accidental anachronisms.

Overall, a wonderful story, and one I would recommend, as I do with “The Red Tent” to anyone who would like to read a story about strong women, and strong female friendships.

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant Cover

Book Review: The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

I had the honor of attending the release party for “The Cure for Dreaming” at Powell’s a few weeks ago. You can read about it here. When I saw this book cropping up on so many of the blogs I follow, I knew I had to look deeper into it. As I read more, I realized that this book was pretty much written for me. Women’s rights? Check! Victorian Era? Got it! The setting is in Portland, it involves Gothic elements, and the supernatural crops up? Check, check, aaaand check! There is also no denying that it has a beautiful cover. It is much prettier in person with a semi-metallic tone to it. There was no doubt in my mind that I would own this book. It was great to meet Cat Winters and have it signed. This was the first of her writing I have read, and it was wonderful introduction.

The most appealing aspect is the message– Even if you feel like you have no voice, you can still make a stand. You can make a difference. You are allowed to follow your dreams and they cannot be taken from you. What a wonderful message to send to our young people who can feel marginalized by the flood of dissenting voices and differing opinions that saturate the media. Like the 1900s where this is set, we are in the midst of rapid social, economic, and technological change and there are vocal extremists on all sides of the equation. “The Cure for Dreaming” is a story where teenagers can easily relate to the feelings and emotions of Olivia and her desire to speak out and bring forth social change without a contemporary setting. The themes of social equality, bullying, and emotional abuse are also contained between the covers, making the cure for dreaming quite a deep story for its relatively short length.

What sets “The Cure for Dreaming” apart from other historical novels with similar themes is the incorporation of paranormal elements as well as imagery from Dracula. I enjoy two types of vampires. The first are the sort of wolf-like predators found in Deborah Harkness’ “All Souls Trilogy”. Noble, long lived, yet unable to escape from the predatory instincts within them. The second, and most beloved, are Bram Stoker vampires. Use elements and imagery from Dracula, or talk about Vlad Tepas and Erzebet Bathory and I am hooked. Olivia’s visions after hypnosis are laced with imagery from her favorite novel, Dracula. These elements enhance the Gothic feel of the novel and gives readers a slightly different take on a historical novel. If you are a fan of the Bronte sisters or Jane Austen, there are pieces here you will love. My only real complaint is that sometimes the language felt a bit anachronistic, but this is definitely coming from someone who really enjoys Victorian literature and Steampunk.

I recommend this to a wide audience. There are strong male and female characters. The themes will appeal to many young adults, and older adults. If you are a fan of creepy novels, or paranormal, I definitely suggest you pick this one up.

If you have read it, what did you think?

the cure for dreaming by cat winters

Book Review: Burden of Breath by Ann Minnett

If you read my review for “A Sudden Light” by Garth Stein you will remember that I had trouble with the characters. While I enjoyed the story, most of the characters drove me up the wall. “Burden of Breath” by Ann Minnett is another one of those stories. For this book, it is important to throw the themes up right here in the beginning of the review, because these are harsh themes to deal with. This is a story about recovering from sexual and metal child abuse told both from the point of view of the abuser who is trying to redeem herself, and the abused who is forced to live with the scars, literally and figuratively. On a scale from 0 to “Push” by Sapphire (The movie was titled “Precious”), it is not nearly as graphic and horrifying, but that is like comparing the bite of a rabid wolf to the bite of an angry shark. This story is hangs on you like a weighted blanket and it is hard to get rid of.

Without summarizing too much, Hannah Dyer receives the news that her manipulative, controlling, sexually and mentally abusive mother has died. Not of suicide as Hannah would have expected, but a natural heart attack. Her mother, true to her nature, has arranged everything. Her entire funeral planned, and Hannah, who has carved out a very lonely life for herself feels the chains latching themselves around her once more, especially when she discovers that her mother has adopted another child, and she is expected to care for it.

This is where the story gets truly interested, and where it kept me turning the pages despite my feelings of anger and frustration both at the abuse that is described, and the characters being so disagreeable to me. When Hannah arrives at her mother’s home, she is confronted with people who have a completely different view of her mother. People who love her mother, and see her as an angry, bitter, woman filled with unnecessary hatred, who barely has her own life together. The dichotomy between what she knows of the woman they revere, and her mother’s public appearance creates an engrossing story. The problem I have is that Hannah is angry, bitter, and filled with hate. She is so wrapped up in herself that she pushes everyone who is trying to help her away and places her young charge in danger because she is so blind to anything but her hatred. I understand it, but it was incredibly difficult to read.

And the other part of this story, her mother’s point of view… even worse. I could not sympathize with the flashback scenes of her mother’s feelings, her mother’s actions, and her mother’s hurt at Hannah’s rejection and her desire to make things better. Even more frustrating was that even after learning about what her mother did to her, other characters still defended or accepted the woman they had known, marginalizing Hannah’s feelings.

I don’t think these were bad choices on behalf of the author, either. It is, sadly, a realistic view, and it is very well written. This an amazing piece for a debut novel. What I, personally and emotionally, was hoping for was for Hannah to break the mold, to come out on top, but her scars were simply too deep. I wanted a hopeful story, and what I got was a dark glimpse into the human psyche and a realistic view of the cycle of abuse. A story that shows that sometimes you fight becoming the monster you fear and one day look into the mirror to see that you have become, at least in part, that monster.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading “Burden of Breath”. I just want those who are sensitive to be prepared. It is not an easy story to digest, and that is why it lost stars. I felt the need to finish, but emotionally could not enjoy it.

burden of breath minnett

 

P.S. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for “The Human Forged” by Anthony Melchiorri

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