Female Friendships

The Women in the Castle

War, it is said, tears families apart and brings strangers together. In this compelling WWII novel, two German widows of Nazi-resisters and a third woman, a refugee from the East, move in together, along with their children. They help each other with child-rearing and preparing meals, despite the privations of rationing. Most importantly, they give each other deep emotional support, as good families do.

The novel opens on a grand harvest party in a castle, ramshackle and falling apart, near a small town in Bavaria. Marianne, the main character, plays host for its ailing owner, Countess von Lingenfels, her husband Albrecht's aunt. Marianne brings to hosting the skills of someone who has an eye for beauty and taste—and particularly the complicated dynamics of relationships between people. She greets, cajoles, and introduces strangers with the flair and manners of a great lady.

Another Brooklyn

The helplessness and friendships of childhood are topics that many writers have tackled. Fewer have written about African-American girlhood, as Woodson does here. The book centers on August, the intelligent young girl who leaves the lush south for the vibrant and dangerous streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn.

“For a long time my mother wasn’t dead yet.” This sentence opens the novel, which doesn’t proceed chronologically, but follows an inner lyric pulse. Throughout, the whereabouts of August’s missing mother haunt the story.

August’s family lived in Tennessee on a farm called SweetGrove land.  It was inherited from her grandparents. After their uncle, Clyde, a Vietnam soldier dies, her mother begins to unravel. Soon, her father rushes north with August and her little brother to Brooklyn, his home town.

It’s summer--so for safety, August’s father locks her and her little brother, who is only five, inside their third-story apartment. They spend long summer days watching children play on the street: double-Dutch, stick ball games and splashing under open fire hydrants.  A colorful parade of adults wearing dashikis and other colorful outfits weave past.

Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society

What happens when an energetic, middle-aged Bostonian moves to a sleepy town in Florida in 1962? First, she starts a radio show under the persona of Miss Dreamsville and secondly forms a book club. Ex-Bostonian Jackie Hart starts a ruckus when she invites people of other races and sexual persuasions to the club in a decidedly racist, homophobic town where a divorcee is considered socially-risque and improper.

Narrated by a lovable octagenerian, Dora, who does not fit into Naples herself, this novel discusses important issues such as racism, feminism, and homophobia while presenting an interesting mix of characters. With a backdrop of serious and important issues, it provides a humorous and entertaining read.

In her debut novel Amy Hearth manages to take on both the Ku Klux Klan, North versus South, the nature of community, and newcomer angst to Naples, Florida.

Those Rollicking 1920s

Interested in all the hoopla surrounding The Great Gatsby? If this new flick has spurned your interest in 1920s New York, The Other Typist is the book for you. Talk about unreliable narrators. Rose Baker, a former orphan & Catholic schoolgirl, has joined the new wave of women working where men only used to work—big city police stations.

And even though she is still doing women’s work—stenography & typing--she’s listening to risqué and bad language-spiced stories from speakeasy gangsters and murderers including one serial killer who offs several wives in a row for their money. They each end up drowned in the bathtub, yet he keeps convincing juries that he is innocent.

Strong and stoic as Rose is, she soon becomes mesmerized by the new (somewhat incompetent) typist, Odalie, who is beautiful, rich, and ever so modern. She bobs her hair, wears the new slinky dresses with long beads, and is not afraid to make her own way in the world, including visiting the aforementioned speakeasies. But where does Odalie get her money? And is the daddy who pays her rent really her daddy?

Unpublished

Unpublished

Through Another's Eyes

Out of My MindOne of the great things about good books is that they can reveal life through another person's eyes.  That revelation is especially engaging when the character has some barrier to ordinary self expression.  I recently read two fine books that offer fresh perspectives on school and life in general from characters who have trouble communicating with the world. 

Astrid & Veronika

Astrid and VeronikaThis lovely book describes a friendship between a septuagenarian and a woman of 30. Veronika, the younger woman, has spent a lifetime moving, first accompanying her father to his foreign service assignments, then on her own to Stockholm and London before impetuously following a boyfriend to Auckland, New Zealand.

Let's Take the Long Way Home

What an incredibly moving testament to women's friendship. Two Boston area writers who met at a reading but only came to know each other when they were raising puppies at the same time and their dog trainer suggested that they would hit it off.

Caroline was a rower and essayist; Gail, a swimmer and book critic. Both were determined, competitive, tough, and shy. One of Gail's friends nicknamed her "the gregarious hermit." Caroline's dog was a shepherd mix. Gail finally adopted the pristine white samoyed she had always longed for. Caroline stayed in the Cambridge area where she had grown up, while Gail had left her beloved high-country Texas although she still pined for it.

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