Monday, February 27, 2023

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez


I'm still trying to get over the fact that the decade I was a child (the 70's) is now historical fiction. Whoa. I'll say I don't remember all the turbulence of the 1970's; I remember Walter Cronkite on the news every evening, but otherwise I don't recall feeling stress or worry about the world at large. I was anxious about math at school and other things closer to home. 

I was also completely unaware about the court case that this novel is based on. We don't learn everything about American History at school, and it's up to each of us to educate ourselves about the good and the ugly parts of our country. This was definitely ugly and shameful. 

Civil Townsend is the daughter of a doctor and lives in Montgomery, Alabama in 1973. She's fresh out of college and under pressure to follow her father into medicine--but she doesn't feel the urge. She's taken a job as a nurse at the local federally funded clinic, and one of her first tasks is to travel to the homes of the poor and underserved black community and give the females a birth control shot. Civil feels she's doing exactly what she should be doing, until her first case with the Williams family. 

Desperately poor and living in squalor, Erica and India are two young girls: thirteen and eleven. Civil gives them their shots, but is dismayed to find out neither girl has begun her period and definitely are not sleeping around. Civil begins to question why such young girls should be on birth control. Depo-Provera is being given to poor women all over Alabama and is lauded as a way to give  women a choice in their childbearing years. At least that's what Civil is told. But she's shaken by the Williams sisters and begins visiting them more often to see if she can help them and their father and grandmother get out of the shack they live in and have a better life. 

As Civil mulls over the Depo-Provera shot and its implications, she digs a bit deeper with the help of friends and discovers troubling news about the shot. Now she's in deep with her feelings for Erica and India, and is determined to put a stop to the clinic giving the shots to the poor black woman in Alabama. 

This novel take a big, devastating turn, and it sets Civil and her friends on a course that takes them to the U.S. Senate and into a courtroom. It also forces Civil to confront her feelings on her secret abortion and feelings about motherhood. 

Told from Civil's point of view, we see a young Civil in 1973, and a much older Civil in contemporary times, recently retired as an OB-GYN doctor living in Tennessee and raising her adopted daughter. Civil can't help but be haunted by her memories of the Williams' family, and decides to drive back home to Alabama to settle her memories and face the past. 

If you're interested in the actual case, click here and read about the Relf Sisters and why this was a landmark case. 

This was an eye-opening novel about consent and women's choice. The characters, especially the Williams family, all come to life and I was sad to see the end of the novel. I'd recommend this novel for a book club choice--sure to have discussions about a topic that remains a hot button in 2023. 

Rating: 5/6 for a timely novel about female reproductive rights, consent, and every woman's struggle making choices about motherhood.

Available in hardcover, ebook( I read an ebook), and audio. 

Friday, February 24, 2023

The Secrets of Hartwood Hall by Katie Lumsden


This book hit me right at the perfect time. I was having a bit of reading fatigue this week and thought it was a good time to read the e-arc of this gothic novel (thank you Penguin Random House!). It was the perfect antidote to my reading blahs. 

It's 1852 and Margaret Lennox is recently widowed and broke. She's accepted a governess position for a young boy at Hartwood Hall, far away from London. Margaret arrives, and of course this place is massive, set all alone past the creepy dark woods in the English countryside. 

Young Louis is a sweet boy, and Margaret immediately connects to him. If only the Hall wasn't so big, and if only there weren't weird things happening. The villagers won't go near the Hall, and Louis and his mother, Mrs. Eversham aren't welcome there. Superstitious villagers are convinced she's a witch and the Hall is haunted. 

Margaret's terrible marriage still weighs on her mind, and she's convinced she somehow killed her husband. Susan, one of the hired help, is always watching Margaret, and it's pretty clear she's spying on everyone and gathering information to blackmail not only Margaret, but the whole staff. She's a nasty piece of work. 

I went into this novel not knowing much at all about it, and went along for the ride. I couldn't put it down and the plot kept ramping up just enough to keep me in it. Margaret was a pretty decent character, but I was a bit annoyed at her relationship with Paul the gardener.  I get why she made her decision, but I felt it was a bit cold, too. I just felt the relationship was a bit clunky in some spots. I liked all the characters and how Margaret's relationships with all of them evolved. 

One thing I would have liked is an epilogue to see where the characters were a year later. Otherwise, a solid story that I enjoyed quite a bit. 

Rating: 4/6 for a gothic tale with tones of Jane Eyre (the book features in the plot), strong female characters, and families can be shaped by circumstance, friendship, and love. 

Thank you to NetGalley for a review ARC and Penguin Random House for the chance to read and review this novel. It will be out in hardcover in the U.S. on Tuesday, February 28th. Also will be available in ebook and audio. 

Thursday, February 16, 2023

February Read: Finding Me by Viola Davis


I've always admired Viola Davis as an actor and as a woman. I've always thought she had such poise, dignity, and class. And that voice--stops me in my tracks. 

When Viola recently won a Grammy and became an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony winner) I decided it was time to read her memoir. 

Wow. Not at all what I was prepared for when I began her memoir. Viola's childhood was rife with extreme poverty. Often going hungry, living in a building that was actually condemned, seeing her father abuse her mother repeatedly. Viola and her sisters and brother were exposed to so much as children it isn't at all surprising she talks about how they all wet their beds for years and years. 

She speaks about how they had no way to be clean, and often had to wear wet clothes to school because hand washing the night before and hanging clothes didn't dry them in time. How she was made fun of at  school and chased home, knowing if she was caught she'd be beat up. How being dark made her feel ugly and not pretty like the lighter skinned black children. 

But what Viola and her sisters had was imagination, and their escape into putting on plays was the beginning of the way out. They were all also very smart kids who were determined to escape poverty. They knew education was the way out. 

What I found interesting is how Viola's significant accomplishments--those awards she's won over the years--she talks about them, but doesn't make a big deal of them. They're important, but so much else in her personal journey of acceptance was so much more important. The value of self-love was her biggest reward, and something that was a long time coming. 

After reading Finding Me, I admire Viola Davis even more than I did before. She's overcome overwhelming obstacles through determination and a hard won belief in herself. I can't wait to see what she does next. 

Rating: 5/6 for a compelling memoir about creating a life of happiness and success, appreciating all of it, and loving that scared little girl who ran home from school every day. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, February 6, 2023

February Read: The Housemaid by Freida McFadden


BookTok is going wild for this novel, and I'd seen enough people talking about it that I thought I would see what the buzz was all about. 

Millie is broke and living out of her car. Recently released from prison after 10 years, she's just lost her bartending job and been evicted from her apartment. She's got one shot left at a new job, and it's as housekeeper to a wealthy family on Staten Island. 

Millie is so relieved to accept the job--and she even gets to stay at the house-in a very tiny attic room that appears to lock from the outside. The window in the room is painted shut, and it's not the best. But it's better than her car, and she just wants to stay long enough to save money and stay out of trouble. 

Nina Winchester appears to have the life: a loving, handsome husband, a young daughter and a beautiful home. But Millie's first day at work is really odd: the home which was immaculate just the week before is now a complete disaster, and young Cecelia is a horrible brat. Not only that, but she's dressed in very fancy dresses no young girl would ever willingly wear. Nina is nice one minute, and horrible to Millie the next. 

Millie thinks she's doing everything wrong, as Nina finds mistake after mistake. Andrew, her husband, is just so kind, and quick as a wink, Millie is having some feelings for him--her boss. Ugh. 

It all seems pretty cut and dried and I wasn't really surprised by the plot; but once you hit Part II, things shift very fast. Part I is told from Millie's point of view, and the second part is told from Nina's point of view. They are two very different points of view, and there is one heck of twist. It's the first of a few twists. Part III moves back to Millie's point of view, and action happens fast. There are some points in the last bit of the book that are tied up just a bit too easily, but that's my only complaint. Let's just say you don't feel bad about why some issues are so easily resolved.

I'm not saying anything more, I don't want to give anything away. It's a really fast read; I finished it in a day. There are some surprises, but nothing that is extreme--even the end.  In any case, it makes a quick thrilling read, with a two strong female characters. Best of all, there is a second Housemaid novel out this month called The Housemaid's Secret. I will definitely read it. 

Rating: 4/6 for a fast paced thriller that mostly takes place in a home. Somehow the author makes you forget the one setting, and keeps the story moving along. I liked Millie, and yes, even Nina--read the book and you'll see. I'd say you'll want a friend to read it, too. 

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio.