Tag Archives: United States

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

When we talk today about women’s rights we fail to remember that it wasn’t until 1920 that women were allowed to vote in the United States and it has only been in the last forty or so years that women could get their own credit cards or purchase property without a male consigner. Consider that the ERA has never been ratified into law and our country has been unsuccessful in voting a woman into office as President, but still wives have a lot more rights today than they did in the late 1940s and 1950s.

The role of women in 1947 is an underlying theme throughout The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve. Grace Holland is a dutiful wife whose life evolves around her husband Gene and her two young children. She doesn’t work or drive, relying on Gene to provide for the family. His will dominates their lives, but their amiable chatter in the evenings plus her friends in the community, especially her next door neighbor Rosie, are enough to keep Grace content with her lot in life. At twenty three she’s a little confused about their lackluster sex life, wondering why she must lie face down in an uncomfortable position, but the act is over quickly and her husband’s needs must be met (a part of her wifely duty). After an especially rough session, Grace is unsure if she should be grateful for his sudden indifference, but the less he touches her, the less he communicates. Then when one night, after he fails to “perform” despite her assuming the preferred position, Gene becomes taciturn and aloof, withdrawing any of the little bit of affection previously expressed.

When “The Fire” begins in their area, after a summer of drought, the community hopes it won’t come so close to the ocean, but despite their preparations, when the alarm is given they barely have time to escape. Rosie and Grace grab their children and head for the ocean, taking refuge in the water protecting the little ones under their bodies. Rosie is rescued first, but by the time help comes for Grace she is suffering from hypothermia. Kindhearted strangers provide assistance as Grave recuperates at the hospital. Her husband, out fighting the fire, does not return, so Grace finds herself relying on others until she can find a way to take up the mantle as provider. Deciding to move into her deceased mother-in-law’s vacant home (well almost vacant) and with the help of her mother, she restarts her life. The squatter, a brilliant pianist, stays for awhile to help out, and Grace discovers a new identity along with a true sense of contentment which was formerly missing in her life. Taking advantage of some of the conveniences of the large Victorian House, a home where she was never made to feel welcome, Grace finds a way to survive after losing everything. Of course, when things start to go wrong, she has some serious decisions to make, weighing a sense of duty against the loss of any semblance of her new found liberty.

The author creates a story based on a true disaster, an October fire which wiped out parts of Maine from Bar Harbor to Kittery. Grace’s tale also reflects the era prior to the bra burning days where women demanded equal rights. Gene reflects the attitude men had towards their wives who were considered more like domestic servants (with benefits) than spouses. Since Gene was a laudable provider who did not beat his wife and even helped out a bit around the house, he would have been considered a commendable husband (despite his lack of ardor in the bedroom). When I hear people lament about the good old days, meaning the 1950s, they often don’t realize it was a time of inequality, not just for minorities, but for women. (Or maybe they do!). I liked the fact that Grace was able to reinvent herself after that terrible experience. As a mother of four I empathized with her frantic actions and as a grandmother I rejoiced that her mother was right there for her, providing the support she needed. Almost a child herself, Grace certainly had a full plate.

Well written, fast paced, with just enough action to keep our interest, and a starring role for the crazy weather, I particularly enjoyed the culmination (even though I was secretly anticipating these very actions) with everybody getting exactly what they deserved.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Woman of God by James Patterson with Maxine Paetro

IN 2002 I bought my first ever brand new car. During that initial year of ownership, I was stopped at a red light on Sheridan and was rear-ended – twice. Over the life span of that car it was in so many accidents I was on a first name basis with the owner of the collision shop. Even though the majority of these incidents were not my fault, my insurance went up because I (or perhaps that particular car) was considered “jinxed”.

In James Patterson’s novel, Woman of God, the main character, Brigid Fitzgerald, is jinxed. Not only does she find herself in difficult situations, but those around her are also endangered with many unable to survive the ordeal. Brigid herself is not left unscathed, experiencing a multitude of near death experiences.

How does this girl, an on again, off again Catholic, end up being considered for the role as the “first” female pope?

It starts with a stint in South Sudan as a member of the staff for Helping Hands (a sort of Doctors Without Borders). Brigid, a young doctor just out of medical school, is thrilled to be at this remote location – think “MASH on Steroids” – right in the middle of the action. When the protective forces move on, the unit is left to the mercies of an adversary who refuses to distinguish between neutral volunteers or the enemy in their quest for genocide. Instead of evacuating, Brigid tries to save one more victim, becoming a target herself. When her vitals indicate death she has an out-of-body experience resulting in an ethereal connection to God after the medics on the rescue chopper bring her back to life. Despite this divine linkage, her continued exposures to traumatic events make her question the existence of a deity, yet God relentlessly reaches out, wordlessly urging her forward. Brigid’s bad luck isn’t helped by her insistence on placing herself in dangerous situations, tempting fate. Even when trying to eke out a somewhat normal life, trouble follows her and those she loves.

After various encounters with the assorted men who are drawn into her circle, she eventually settles down and marries a Priest. Becoming disenfranchised with the Roman Catholic Church, he starts the JMJ (Jesus Mary Joseph) Movement for forward thinking Catholics and other believers. Within a few years, the movement leads to a chain of churches across the United States and into Europe. Brigid is ordained a Priest and her popularity draws huge crowds plus all manner of enemies who disdain what they consider her blasphemy. After her five year old daughter nonchalantly mentions that her mother talks to God to one of the stalking media, Brigid suddenly finds herself on Sixty Minutes admitting her connection with The Lord to the world. This leads to an audience with the Pope and the speculation that she is next in line for the papacy.

What goes around comes around. While my Saturn celebrated its last day of service by spewing its subframe onto the road at the very same intersection as its first accident, Brigid finds herself at a crossroads, not knowing what comes next, but leaning towards the same activities which brought her a sense of fulfillment when she was in her early twenties, back in South Sudan. Whether she survives her further anticipated adventures is up to the reader to decide.

A great book for the light reader who wants some quick entertainment. Cowritten by Maxine Paetro, this is one of a myriad of publications by the Patterson machine, whose popularity endures no matter how many books a year he cranks out.

However, if you want something more from your reading material, keep searching. Trying to create an anology between Brigid and Job, the authors throw one catastrophe after another into her path. While there is a lot of action, everything is superficial, and all too often the reader has to suspend all sense of reality. The writing lacks depth, the characters are one dimensional, the plot moves too quickly and at times is confusing or even senseless due to a lack of detail. I won’t even mention the two to three page snippets called chapters. I personally feel this is an outline for a movie, with its faced paced “drama and trauma”. Brigid travels throughout the world with stops in the Sudan, Italy, Germany, and the United States, flitting from one locale to another meeting a myriad of characters who may or may not be significant in her life. I certainly hope Carrot finds her way home, but we never do discover what happens to the majority of Brigid’s chance encounters unless they die while driving her somewhere. Not my cup of tea, but obviously beloved by others. A generous three stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

The White House Kids: The Perks, Pleasures, Problems, and Pratfalls of the Presidents’ Children by Joe Rhatigan and illustrated by Jay Shinn

What a fun little book. The White House Kids: The Perks, Pleasures, Problems, and Pratfalls of the Presidents’ Children by Joe Rhatigan and illustrated by Jay Shinn explores the lives of children, grandchildren, or other youthful relations of the Presidents during their time in office from George Washington to Barack Obama. This colorful book with interesting blurbs, photographs, and quotations looks at the various Presidents who occupied the White House over the years and their relationship with the children who accompanied them. Whether spoiled and pampered or made to do chores, life at the White House was like living in a fish bowl with the curious butting into the first family’s personal lives through newspaper articles, paparazzi, or White House Tours (there was even a time when folks could come and go as they pleased with outrageous hijinks including peeking into private bedrooms). Of course, now the secret service watches over the children, even when they attend school. Speaking of school, the sorts of education experienced by White House kids varied greatly from Tutors, to Private Schools to Public Schools to no formal schooling at all. While some of the children were well behaved, others were little tyrants who ran roughshod over the White House, disturbing the President or playing pranks on visitors. Some of the kids were more popular than their parents providing numerous antics which make for amusing reading. My favorite story is when Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter Alice cut her wedding cake with a sword, setting a tradition for future White House weddings. Amongst the mainly humorous tidbits and famous firsts, there is also the tragedy of children dying while their parents were in office.

The appendix has a complete list of all the children and what happened to them later in life as well as a list of the Presidents and First Ladies. There is so much information jammed into this book that it is hard to keep everybody straight. I feel the list of Presidents should be expanded to include the list of the First Children (in addition to their short biographical sketches). There is also an extensive bibliography plus an index which would be helpful for research projects.

My main complaint is that the information is not chronological, but moves back and forth through time with various themes to sort the relevant information. However, this book does give the reader the opportunity to see history up close and personal revealing White House tidbits focusing on the littlest of residents. Whether for fun or information, the graphic format will appeal to school aged children (as well as their parents) who will enjoy reading about their counterparts lucky enough to live at the White House. Four stars.

Thank you to Netgalley and Charlesbridge Publishing for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.