Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Spring 1937. In the four years since she left England, Maisie Dobbs has experienced love, contentment, stability—and the deepest tragedy a woman can endure. Now, all she wants is the peace she believes she might find by returning to India. But her sojourn in the hills of Darjeeling is cut short when her stepmother summons her home to England; her aging father Frankie Dobbs is not getting any younger.

But on a ship bound for England, Maisie realizes she isn’t ready to return. Against the wishes of the captain who warns her, “You will be alone in a most dangerous place,” she disembarks in Gibraltar. Though she is on her own, Maisie is far from alone: the British garrison town is teeming with refugees fleeing a brutal civil war across the border in Spain.

Yet the danger is very real. Days after Maisie’s arrival, a photographer and member of Gibraltar’s Sephardic Jewish community, Sebastian Babayoff, is murdered, and Maisie becomes entangled in the case, drawing the attention of the British Secret Service. Under the suspicious eye of a British agent, Maisie is pulled deeper into political intrigue on “the Rock”—arguably Britain’s most important strategic territory—and renews an uneasy acquaintance in the process. At a crossroads between her past and her future, Maisie must choose a direction, knowing that England is, for her, an equally dangerous place, but in quite a different way.

My Thoughts:
If you're a reader of the Maisie Dobbs books, you'll know that Winspear has spent quite a lot of time building up Maisie's relationship with James Compton. Winspear never resorted to the easy to exploit rich-family-looks-down-on-son's-relationship-with-the-help's-daughter scheme. Neither did she rush Maisie down the aisle; instead, making the relationship between James and Maisie more complicated and interesting in a time when young women were more likely to be looking to get married rather than to become career women. The problem, of course, is that, eventually, something had to happen, given that James wanted to be married. In A Dangerous Place, Winspear finally had to make the decision about how she was going to work around that. But Winspear never wanted to write that kind of book. Hence, "the deepest tragedy," which felt rushed to me, although I understood dwelling on it was not the book Maisie Dobbs fans want to read nor, perhaps, the kind of book Winspear wants to write. It doesn't, however, simply disappear.

In A Dangerous Place, we meet a deeply wounded Maisie, struggling to find a way to move forward and unsure if she even wants to do that. But when she, literally, stumbles across a murdered man, Maisie finds herself drawn into solving a case that the police already consider solved. More and more, as she digs deeper into the man's history, Maisie finds herself again. When news arrives about the slaughter in Guernica, that tragedy begins to help Maisie deal with her own grief. But it also brings to the fore all of the political elements at play and throws a new light onto Maisie's investigation.

Pablo Picasso's iconic "Guernica"

A Dangerous Place gives Maisie Dobbs fans exactly what they want from one of Winspear's novels - a murder mystery with a deeper context (here the Spanish Civil War), an intelligent heroine with a full life, and a balance of light and dark. Sometimes that lightness gets in the way for me (I don't really need to know what outfit Maisie selected to wear each day), but I always appreciate Winspear's ability to use events of the past to address problems we still struggle with today.

The best part of this book? Getting back to Maisie, may just have broken me out of the reading rut I've been in for weeks. Thanks, Jacqueline Winspear! And thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other reviews about the Maisie Dobbs books, including the latest In This Grave Hour, check out the full tour.

About Jacqueline Winspear Jacqueline 

Winspear is the author of the New York Times bestselling Maisie Dobbs series, which includes In This Grave Hour, Journey to Munich, A Dangerous Place, Leaving Everything Most Loved, Elegy for Eddie, and eight other novels. Her standalone novel, The Care and Management of Lies, was also a New York Times bestseller and a Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalist. Originally from the United Kingdom, she now lives in California.

Find out more about Jacqueline at her website,, and find her on Facebook.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Dust Bowl Girls by Lydia Reeder

Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team that Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory by Lydia Reeder
Source: my print and egalley copies courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In the early 1930s, during the worst drought and financial depression in American history, Sam Babb began to dream. Like so many others, this charismatic Midwestern basketball coach wanted a reason to have hope. Traveling from farm to farm near the tiny Oklahoma college where he coached, Babb recruited talented, hardworking young women and offered them a chance at a better life: a free college education in exchange for playing on his basketball team, the Cardinals.

Despite their fears of leaving home and the sacrifices that their families would face, the women joined the team. And as Babb coached the Cardinals, something extraordinary happened. These remarkable athletes found a passion for the game and a heartfelt loyalty to one another and their coach—and they began to win.

My Thoughts:
This book initially landed in my mailbox unsolicited. It sounded interesting but I was busy and knew I wouldn't get a chance to read it any time soon. But I did know someone who I knew would be interested in this one, so I put it in the hands of my brother-in-law the first chance I got. He coached girls basketball for a number of years, beginning just a year after girls started playing basketball in Nebraska. He has thoroughly enjoyed it, the history, the basketball, and the coaching. But I doubt he learned as much as I did from it. Because, although I knew that girls had been playing basketball in Iowa for years before they started playing in Nebraska, I still had no idea how long girls had been playing basketball in this country. Nor did I ever know why girls in Iowa had played the three-on-three, half court game they long played. I assumed, going in, that the Dust Bowl Girls were similar to the women who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II, a group of women who filled in for men when the need arose.


Women, it turns out, have been playing basketball since James Naismith invented the game. In their own yards, on the local playground, they hiked up their skirts and played like the boys. Almost as soon as women started playing, though, restrictions started being put on the ways they could play. Divided courts, no dribbling (yep, that was a rule for a time), and, in 1908, the AAU said women could not play basketball in public. The Women's Division of the National Amateur Athletic Federation worked to ban extramural games and tournaments as "too competitive" for women. Most competitive teams actually played for companies, not colleges.

In a time in our country when people were struggling just to find the money to feed themselves, college was not even a dream for most people. Into the lives of a group of young women came Sam Babb offering a free education and a chance to play basketball. Dozens of young women answered the call but life as a girls' basketball player wasn't easy (they had to practice at 4 a.m. in a gym that didn't even have the heat turned on until later in the day) and, eventually, Babb's team was winnowed down to the girls who most wanted to play. Girls from small towns and farms all over Oklahoma who were required, in addition to their studies and practice, to help teach the Native American children who also went to school on the same campus. Not only that, but in order to cover their costs, the team had to "barnstorm," playing games to earn money.

Reeder spends a lot of time early on giving readers Babb's own history. It felt like the focus of the book, the girls, had gotten away from Reeder and that she was falling into the nonfiction trap of giving readers all of the information she had uncovered in her research instead of sticking to the story she wanted to tell. Or as if Reeder had a particular interest in Babb. It turns out Babb was Reeder's great-uncle. You can hardly blame a girl for wanting readers to understand her particular gateway into this incredible story.

And it really is an incredible story, full of American history, sports history, women's history. Although Babb's team didn't end up playing for a gold medal in the Olympics, the book reminded me very much of Daniel James Brown's The Boys In The Boat - a group of unlikely athletes and a driven coach persevere against the odds and rise to the top. Only this time, it's a story we can use to show our daughters how women can do anything they want if they want it badly enough.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Life: It Goes On - March 19

I read a book! I read a book! Also, I realized that I have two books that I finished but never reviewed so there will finally be lit on Lit and Life!

I also accomplished a ton for 40 Bags In 40 Days. I feel good about the amount of stuff I've gotten out of my house but even better that very little of it has gone in the trash. Some is being recycled, some will be resold, and quite a lot has been donated to be used by animals and people in need. I've discovered an incredible group of women (do men not declutter unless forced to do so?) who are so supportive of each other. I've learned a lot about why we collect so much "stuff" and about myself along the journey.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Well, A Gate At The Stairs sure picked up this week. Lots of discussion about race and now a boyfriend's gone rogue in a very interesting way. Can't wait to finish it this week. Also, loving my daily mix on Spotify - discovering a lot of new artists, including The Winter Sounds.

Watching: Lots of the NCAA basketball tournament. My bracket was so busted after the two days! Also, Naturally Danny Seo. Have any of you seen this? More and more I'm thinking about ways to do things more sustainably and naturally. Yesterday I watched him make a laundry soap that I'm definitely planning on trying - cheap, healthier, and you can make it your own scent-wise.

Reading: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (finally!) for book club.

Making: Reuben sandwiches for St. Patricks Day - our way to do corned beef and cabbage in a way we love. We're clearly not alone in this - all of the ingredients were on sale this week so I bought enough to have them again this week. Yum! Today I'll be making a couple of pans of bread pudding, thanks to 99 cent baguette loaves, one to take to a friend along with dinner.

Planning: On hitting the basement (read "dumping ground") this week for 40 Bags. Wish me luck! Everything up to this point was just warm up.

Thinking About: Miss H's bedroom. I spent most of yesterday cleaning in there while she is away. A black trash bag plus two more grocery bags of trash and a box for donation all came out of that one bedroom! Since she moved home and into her brother's old room, she's been living with hand-me-down bedding and curtains; now that the room's in order, it's time for new girly bedding and curtains!

The Princess in her new tutu
Enjoying: Snapchat, Facebook and text updates from Miss H while she is off to Arizona for the week with friends. They have enjoyed St. Patrick's Day in a new city, some spring training baseball, and a hockey game (who knew there was a professional hockey team in Arizona?!) so far. While she's gone, I'm doing 40 Bags in her room. Ssshhh! She'll never know if I got rid of things if you don't tell her!

Feeling: Congested. Thanks for sharing the cold before you left, Miss H!

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday and a girls weekend trip to Missouri. Check out the adorable St. Patrick's Day outfit Miss H made for The Princess! Can't wait to see her!

Question of the week: Have you ever used homemade or natural laundry soaps? If so, your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Life: It Goes On - March 14

Oh heck, books, blog, me - not really adding up these days. I'm utterly unable to focus on books lately which means I've got nothing to post here. Too many other things to focus on these days when I can focus - wedding planning, life stuff, and 40 Bags. Ugh, life. I haven't even remembered to dance yet this month!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm about half done with A Gate At The Stairs; I must say, it's not what I was expecting at all. While I've been working out, I've been listening to Slate's Audio Book Club. I finally found book they like - Zadie Smith's NW, which, upon listening to them, I discover is a whole different kind of book when you read it instead of listening to it.

Watching: Some Longmire, The Voice, high school basketball. Again, not much focus going on.

Reading: Finally reading the Maisie Hobbs book I was meant to review last week but didn't get until Thursday.

Making: Beef stroganoff, tostadas, and pies for my dad's birthday (chocolate French silk and a new-to-me strawberry/rhubarb pie which was a big hit).

Planning: On doing taxes this weekend. Ick.

Thinking About: Hiding my cell phone in the evenings. Seriously. I'm certain it's contributing to my inability to focus.

Enjoying: 40 Bags In 40 Days. Fourteen days in and I've thrown out or recycled thirteen bags, have three boxes and two bags ready to take to the Goodwill, and two boxes and two bags to take to a homeless shelter and the humane society. Forty bags is going to be no problem at all!

Feeling: Like my reading rut is not going to end any time soon. When you're reading books you're enjoying and still don't have any interest in picking them up, that's bad.

Looking forward to: A trip to see my great-niece (next week. And, of course, the rest of my brother's family. But mostly my great niece, who will be five months old by then.

Question of the week: How do you break out of a reading rut???

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My Happiness Project - March

As you know, March kicked off the, for me, much beloved 40 Bags In 40 Days, which also makes March the perfect month for my happiness project goal to be Lighten Up. I mean for this to be both literal and figurative. Consequently, my steps to reach my goal this month are:

1. Let It Go: here's where the 40 Bags comes in. I have a plan for 40 different areas in my house to work on. I fell behind on but worked hard this weekend and have two rooms done. I've even gotten The Big Guy starting to sign on. A couple of bags of trash have gone out, a couple of bags worth of stuff has gone into recycling, a bag is ready to donate, and a bag of winter gear will go to a local homeless shelter later this week.

2. Take Time To Be Silly And Laugh - Time with friends and family always helps with this one and a trip to see my baby great-niece later this month will allow me to be ridiculously silly. I just got a new Nora Ephron book to read this month and that lady always made me laugh. Some funny movies will definitely be on the agenda!

3. Lose Some Mental Weight: Tackle A Nagging Task - Once I've gotten through a couple of major areas during 40 Days, I'll decide which task this is going to be. I've got a couple of things in mind, just need to decide what fits but is also realistic to pack into the month.

4. Dance - I used to dance around the house all of the time. I danced as I cooked. I turned on music and danced while I cleaned. I danced with the kids. I can't remember the last time I danced in my house. I'm going to dance again. It will likely be ugly but who cares?!

What would you do to lighten up in your life?