Pretty In Ink
When Hers magazine announces they have hired Mimi as the new editor in chief, the magazine staff is understandably shaken. Over the next few months, many of them will find themselves without a job. Those who remain at the magazine will have to adapt to the new work environment. Some of the staff struggle, torn between loyalty to their old boss and coworkers, and wanting to gain Mimi’s favor. The new staff, hired by Mimi, are sometimes oblivious to the tension their presence causes.
Palmer writes this workplace drama with a light touch and humorous perspective. It is obvious that she has experience in the magazine industry and professional world. She is able to move the story forward by writing about a day here and a day there.
Pretty In Ink is narrated by Leah, Jane, Victoria, Deborah, Abby, Drew, Liz, Ed, Zoe, Erin and Laura. Each voice is interesting, but having so many makes it hard to get invested in the characters. I personally enjoyed Leah, Jane, Abby and Ed the most. Leah, Jane and Abby all had multiple chapters, so I was able to get the clearest view of them as people. Ed, as the lone male narrator, and a mailman at that, provided a fun outsiders perspective. I think the story could’ve been told just as well with only those characters as narrators, and might have been a little easier to follow.
Pretty In Ink is a fun read. I will be recommending it for beach reading this summer!
You might like The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (of course) and Bond Girl by Erin Duffy.
For Violet, running her shop Hourglass Vintage is more than a job – it is the fulfillment of dreams she had as a small-town girl and abused wife. So when lease issues threaten her business, she is frantic to find a solution.
April bought her wedding dress at Hourglass Vintage, but returned it when her engagement to an upper-class boy fell apart. Now she is left pregnant and heartbroken.
Elizabeth, a mentor to both women and a patron of the arts, has the idea that the women should work together. But can they each get past their own struggles to become friends.
Amithi comes to Hourglass Vintage to sell some of her clothes from India after her long marriage falls apart. She is hoping for some kind of fulfilling career but has no idea where to start. Violet’s business gives her inspiration.
Each of the women in Vintage has her own story to tell. One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was how the women were all different ages and at different stages of love and success.
You might like: A Vintage Affair, Isabel Wolff. The Perfume Collector, Kathleen Tessaro. The Shoemaker’s Wife, Adriana Trigiani.
Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening
Caring for her yard and garden was never much of a priority for Carol Wall, but one day she decided she had neglected it long enough. Her neighbor had a great yard, so she hired her neighbor’s gardener, Giles Owita. Mr Owita transformed Carol’s yard, trimming trees and adding colorful flowers; but he also changed her life. His advice on plant problems grew into advice on life problems. Mr Owita and Carol became more than an employee and employer; they became friends. Their relationship grew to include Carol’s husband Dick, Mr Owita’s wife Bienta, and the Owita children.
When Carol’s cancer relapsed, the Owita’s supported and encouraged her. When Mr Owita got sick, Carol rallied her friends to help his family.
Mister Owita’s Guide To Gardening is a charming memoir. Carol Wall writes with honesty about her own needs. She has a great deal of insight into both herself and others. I enjoyed the parallels she drew between a blossoming yard and a blooming heart.
Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening is a story about gardening, of course, but its a story about so much more. Its a story about family, faith, healing and personal growth. Most of all, its a story about the friendship between Carol and Mr Owita.
The Sisters Weiss
In a very conservative Jewish family, sisters Rose and Pearl grew up close in age and close to one another. Like all sisters, tho, they also envied one another. When Rose, as a young teenager, brought home a book of photographs, Pearl reported her to their parents- with severe consequences.
Rose was sent to live with her grandmother and attend and even more conservative religious school. Instead of reforming her behavior, she took the opportunity to do more forbidden things- even enrolling in a college photography class. Rose’s family made one more attempt to keep her from straying, by arranging a marriage for her. Rose accepted it- until a few days before the wedding, when her groom told her she would have to give up her beloved photography.
Torn between family and tradition on one hand, and freedom and art on the other, what could Rose do?
The Sisters Weiss jumps forward forty years at this point, for the second half of the book. Both sisters now have daughters of their own- and haven’t spoken to each other in years. Its impossible to summarize without a spoiler for the first half, so I’m just going to leave it there. Except to say that the tension between faith and freedom repeats itself for younger generations.
I have read and enjoyed many of Ragen’s other books. This one, however, struck a surprisingly personal note with me. I also grew up in a very conservative religious family- altho not Jewish, and not as strict as the fictional Weiss family. I can very much relate to the struggles Rose and Pearl face- trying to find their place in both their faith and the world.
In The Sisters Weiss, Ragen has written an interesting story. She has also addresses complicated, real-life issues with understanding and grace.
You might like (both non-fiction): Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman. Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood by Leah Vincent
The Burgess Boys
The Burgess Boys is the story of a family: brothers Jim and Bob, and their sister Susan; as well as their respective spouses, exes, and children. When Jim, Bob, and Susan were very young, they were in the car when an accident killed their father. Bob has always believed himself to be responsible. The heavy burden he carries has led him to a solitary life in a small apartment with lots of alcohol. Jim, on the other hand, has become a successful and famous lawyer with a lovely family and a nice house. Unlike her brothers, Susan did not move to New York but stayed in their hometown, where she also has a small, cold life. Her only joy is her son, Zach- until his teenage prank mushrooms into a hate crime against the Somali Muslims that have immigrated to their hometown.
Zach’s legal case forms the framework for The Burgess Boys, but it is not the story: the story is the brothers, Jim and Bob, and their struggle to navigate their relationships with each other and the people around them. This is not a book with lots of action or major plot points, but it is a book with incredible character development. The narration rotates among a handful of main players, allowing the reader to see the characters from both their own and others perspectives.
Yes, The Burgess Boys is about immigration, racism, and the law. It is also about middle-aged marriage, divorce, and falling in love again. But ultimately, it is about family. It is about the narrative of who you are in your family, starting in early childhood, and how it shapes the person you are as an adult. Its about the Burgess boys, Jim and Bob, and the people they love -and hurt- the most.
After I’m Gone
When local big shot and bookie Felix Brewer skipped bail and disappeared, he left behind a wife Bambi, three daughters, and a mistress, Julie. When Julie disappeared ten years later, many people assumed he had sent for her. It was 15 years before her body was discovered.
Private investigator Sandy Sanchez is trying to solve the cold case of Julie’s murder. Digging into the past, he finds layer after layer of secrets and lies. But will he discover the truth?
After I’m Gone uses multiple narrators and weaves together accounts spanning many years. While it initially appears to be a story about Felix, it really the story of all the women he loved and left behind. Each one adds her own unique perspective to this novel.
Part mystery, part family drama, After I’m Gone is all page-turner. Telling a story from so many viewpoints is tricky, but Lippman did an excellent job. Each character has their own distinct voice but they tell one story.
Arabella Godwin is an old lady when her life is shaken, quite literally, by one of San Francisco’s famous earthquakes. The disaster throws her together with a woman who remembers her, not as a rich society widow, but as the most infamous madam on the west coast.
Realizing that she has nothing to lose, Arabella finally sits down to write her own account of her early years. It is this memoir that makes up the bulk of Belle Cora.
Arabella was born into a comfortable merchant family, but the untimely death of her parents scattered the siblings, sending Arabella and her younger brother Lewis to live with relatives in the country. Farm life did not suit Arabella; but it was there she met Jeptha, who may just have been the love of her life.
Circumstances developed (I don’t want to give away the whole plot) that led Arabella to the gold rush town of San Francisco. She quickly worked her way up from being a prostitute to running one of the best brothels in the city. She also became known as the wife of the notorious gambler Charles Cora.
Of course a fast lifestyle came at a cost, and Belle paid that cost. She was still very young when she retired and started another life with a respectable man.
The narrative of Belle Cora– the story development and historical details- is good enough. It is populated with a supporting cast of interesting characters. But what makes it exceptional, in my mind, is the voice of Belle as an old woman looking back over her life. Her perspective, at once unashamed and defensive, really elevates the story.
I had not even finished Belle Cora before I started recommending it to people. I’m recommending it even more now.