Lilli De Jong by Janet Benton

Janet Benton

Lilli de Jong

“Lilli De Jong” by Janet Benton is a tour de force for women. It takes place  in Philadelphia in the 1880’s.

Lilli de Jong is a young Quaker woman living with her recently widowed father and her brother. She’s been a teacher but recently let go because her father has been shunned from Meeting.  She’s fallen in love with her brother’s friend and has become his fiancé. But he and her brother pack up and move to Pittsburgh leaving her behind while promising undying love and devotion. He will send for her as soon as he is settled. And then he doesn’t and she is with child.

It’s never been easy being a woman with a child and no husband. But this harsh telling seared my soul.  I found my heart breaking over and over again for this young woman and her plight. Told in unsparing prose that gets straight to the heart of what being a woman is like. And how women suffer so as men are allowed to continue their normal lives.  All while an innocent child is brought into the world and considered a bastard.

Lilli has to leave her home. You see, her father has taken up with his first cousin, and this only three weeks after her mother’s untimely death.  So now Lilli is cast out and finds herself taken in by a charity home for unwed mothers in Philadelphia.  Although it’s a haven of sorts, these places are far from ideal.  They are just a means to an end. Babies are expected to be adopted out; given up.  But Lilli discovers from chatter that babies do not aways end up in safe homes. Mostly, they do not thrive and are often abused. So she decides to find a way to keep her daughter, Charlotte. Any way she can. Of course that is easier said than done.  What Lilli experiences over and over again is chilling.  Often  she is on the streets.  She is hoping beyond hope that her love, her Johan, comes to her rescue even though she has not heard a peep from him.

Benton’s writing has been likened to that of Geraldine Brooks. Her attention to historical detail is spot-on. There’s quite a bit of focus on nursing the baby, and I think that could have been lessened. But, I read the book in a day. I wanted to know where Lilli and Charlotte were going…

Don’t miss the author’s note at the end of the novel. Benton says that the voice of an unwed mother rang in her ears as she nursed her own infant. She studied and discovered the plight of unwed mothers years ago. This novel is truly a labor of love to all the unwed mothers past, present, and future.

I have the generous people at Nan A. Talese to thank for my  gorgeous hard cover.  All in exchange for an honest review. I really enjoyed it!

All The Best People by Sonja Yoerg

Sonja Yoerg

All The Best People

1972, Vermont. Carole was ten when her mother was committed to a mental institution.  Her life would never be the same.

Then Carole was a mother with three children.  Life was good. Her husband was an auto mechanic with his own business. Carole did the books.  Lately, Carole is not feeling herself. And she’s just not comfortable telling anyone that she’s hearing voices. She becomes afraid of even leaving the house.  What if they put her away ike her mother?

Yoerg takes on mental illness in this intense novel of courage.  It used to be easy to lock people up for the rest of their lives if they exhibited any issues seemingly out of the norm. Husbands had wives put away because it was easy to do.  Mental illness still holds a stigma but, it’s nothing like it was. Now there are medications that help people to lead normal lives.

The characters in ALL THE BEST PEOPLE are strong. Told in multiple points of view, the voices are bold and will gather you into their world. It’s a quick read. Compelling. Well-written.

My review copy came from Berkley, a division of Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review. I really liked it.

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout

Anything Is Possible

“Anything Is Possible” can read as a stand alone novel. However, those of you who are fans of Strout’s “My Name Is Lucy Barton” are in for a real treat. Many of the characters from that last novel are showcased here in “Anything Is Possible.”

Pulitzer Prize Winner, Elizabeth Strout, is the queen of the novel told in linked stories. She showcases each character by giving them each their own chapter. Then, she brings the characters together throughout the novel. It’s quite ingenious.

I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth Strout since reading her first novel, “Amy and Isobelle,” many, many years ago. I fell in love with the young daughter and her mothers. I felt like Strout had nailed the mother-daughter relationship. She evoked feelings from me I had thought long buried. So I have always been eager to read her next book.

I am going to put it out there that I was not a big fan of Lucy Barton. I didn’t hate it. Just wasn’t my favorite of hers. When I heard this new novel had Lucy in it, plus many of the other characters, well, I wasn’t sure I would read it. Silly me. I finished the book yesterday. Quite simply, I loved it!

This collection features nine stories. Each could stand alone. But as the NYT says, “they are richer in juxtaposition to the others.”I think my favorite one is about Tommy the high school janitor. Tommy was a dairy farmer. When his farm burned down he moved his family into town and began working in the school. This setting gave Tommy the opportunity to get to know a lot of “stuff” about the kids. He knew who came to school with a bruise, who hadn’t eaten a meal recently, and who was most likely to run away. Tommy knew things. And he had a secret that he kept even from his wife…

Another story that wowed me was the one where the husband is spying on houseguests. And the wife knows and goes along with it.

Of course Lucy Barton’s brother and sister have their own chapters.   Ever since Lucy became a famous writer she’s been sending money to her seemingly ungrateful sister.  And we find her brother has been living in the old family house in squalor.  They all have demons. Don’t we all.

Strout writes about real life.

Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout

She does small town America especially well.  Each character is experiencing some sort of life-altering event.  But Strout manages to show with kindness and precision just how normal they are. Her writing soothes my soul. Makes me want to become a kinder person.

This humble and exquisitely-written novel certainly earns its place on the Critic’s Choice Summer Reading List.  I hope it makes itself onto your summer reading pile.

My review copy came from Random House Publishing.  I loved it! 272 p


Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank

Dorothea Benton Frank

Same Beach, Next Year

I’ve been wishing for many great summer beach reads. After all, we’ve all been reading some pretty heavy stuff over the winter months.  Well, never fear, along comes Dottie Frank with her summer novel, SAME BEACH, NEXT YEAR.

The Lowcountry is featured in this witty and profound novel of summer, family, friends, love and marriage.  I love reading about Charleston, South Carolina and it’s stunning barrier islands. Frank sets her novel on the lush Isle of Palms, a mere stone’s throw from the streets of one of the most Southern cities in the world, Charleston.

All my favorite Lowcountry books usually have something to do with an old beach cottage or an antique home.  This novel is unique in that Frank has decided to feature a condominium complex on the tip of Isle of Palms.  I have even seen this complex featured on HGTV. I love the big old mansions right on the Atlantic, and the cottages tucked away in lush gardens. So this was a surprise I was not prepared for, nor did I like it at first. But once the story took over and the characters brought their issues to the table, I eased into it.

Two young couples strike up a friendship that will last a lifetime. All this one summer while spending a week on the Isle of Palms at Wild Dunes where they’ve rented condos for a week.  Adam is a builder in nearby Charleston and his wife Eliza is a stay at home mom. They have twin boys aged 4. Carl is a pediatrician and his wife Eve is a mom who takes care of their young daughter who is also four.  The two families get along famously. As the women enjoy lying around the pool sipping cocktails and getting to know each other, the guys begin what will become a lifelong rivalry over golf and tennis.  When we discover that Adam and Eve ( really) were teen sweethearts, we can see where this is going…

Each year the couples return to rent condos and spend their vacations together. And each year Eliza sees more and more that Adam seems infatuated with Eve. She turns a blind eye knowing that he would never act on his feelings. But, little does she know that Adam and Eve were deeply in love all those years ago and if not for Eve’s mom they would have married.

Over the years, through trauma and slights, each marriage is tested. And then something unforgivable happens, or does it?

l love the addition of extended family members. This truly is a big book about family. God knows how important family is to our lives. This book brings all that to the surface.

Once this story took a leap and extended itself to the island of Corfu, Greece, I could not turn the pages fast enough. It’s almost four hundred pages and I devoured this novel. I think you will too. It took me a bit to get into it. I will say that, but once I did, that was it.

Put this novel on your summer reading list right now. I can’t thank the nice people at William Morrow enough. Thanks guys for overnighting a finished copy of this wonderful novel.!


Dorothea Benton Frank

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam M. Grant

Sheryl Sandberg

Option B

OPTION B is a book about the resilience of the human body and mind . It’s inspiring and I think it can help you take back your life after a devastating setback.

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook,  lost her husband Dave while vacationing in Mexico.  He was in good health. In fact, she found him lying on the floor in the hotel’s gym. Unfortunately he did not live beyond that day.  Sheryl was thrown into a deep abyss as would be most of us in her place. After all, Dave was not old. He was in the prime of his life. They have two children. You might remember Sheryl from her huge success with a book called LEAN IN a few years ago.  Sheryl’s coauthor is Adam Grant, the author of ORIGINALS. They’ve partnered here to speak about how acute grief is, and how isolated people feel.  And how others just do not know how to act.

In language that is both intimate and honest, Sheryl tells her story. She sends the message that no matter how low you get, your human resilience will rise up and help you get your life back.

We also see that this book can help everyday people with day to day struggles. People are dealing with illness, job loss, sexual assault, and the ravages of war. This is going on each and every day all over the world. This book can help.

We all live some form of Option B.  I hope this book might be a comfort to anyone going through tragedy. Plus, there is a great section for the people wishing to help someone who is trying to cope.  The right thing to say. The right things to offer. And the wrong things. I know this helped me.

My daughter has a friend who just lost her husband. It was unexpected. He was not old. They have four adopted children with special needs still living at home. This was devastating. Friends and coworkers bonded together to help Leah get through the day to day job of living. They helped with the children, brought food, and one guy even took her car in for service. These are the kinds of things that can be done without having to ask the question you should NOT ask. What can I do to help? Just figure it out yourself.

I borrowed this book from library. It’s 226 pages. Published by Alfred A. Knopf. $25.95.

The Forever Summer by Jamie Brenner

Jamie Brenner

The Forever Summer

If this cover doesn’t SCREAM summer I don’t know what does:)

I went into this novel not having a clue. I came out of it with a new outlook on what a “family” really is. Marin is a thirty-something new lawyer working at a big firm in Manhattan. She’s engaged to a really great guy and her family loves that. Then, the unspeakable happens. Marin has an affair with another lawyer in her firm. The firm mandates a no tolerance for in-house relationships. They know this and take a chance anyhow. Before they know it they are both called in and let go. Now what? Marin has already broken off her engagement. Now can this new romance survive under these extenuating circumstances? Hm.

Rachael is in her early twenties. Lives in sunny California with her hippy single mom. Her dad was a sperm donor and she’s always known that. Lately, she has discovered he’s passed away. She’s off to Provincetown, Mass. to meet her grandmother for the first time. But, wait, she’s stopping in NYC to meet Marin who she’s just found out is her half sister. Oh boy. Now it’s heating up.

At first, I was not keen on Rachael’s character. But as the story becomes more engaging Rachael opens up. Marin and her mother Blythe are swept up in this passage to Provincetown.  You see, Blythe and her husband are in the midst of a divorce they’ve been keeping secret from Marin until now.  These three women converge on this amazing guesthouse on Cape Cod right at the start of summer.  Brenner has done a bang-up job bringing this summertime place to life. I stayed in a small cottage in Provincetown almost thirty years ago. Did not know what to expect. Loved it. It is definitely a gay community.  I will say that. There are some of the best restaurants anywhere. Great shops. Amazing people.  Friendly. And everyone knows who everyone else is. Period. I fell in love with a wonderful little Portuguese bakery near the docks where you catch the whale watching boats. And, I did take one of the whale watching trips. I have pictures that are amazing. Great experience. I would definitely recommend a visit to this area; so much to do.

What I neglected to tell you is that Marin and Rachael’s grandmother is 75 years old and lives with her wife who is twenty years younger.

I did get a chuckle  at the scene where Blythe is at the beach.  Finally, she’s gotten herself situated on the straight people’s beach. But only after first landing on the lesbian section, and then on the gay men’s area.  She’s taking it all in stride.


Jamie Brenner

Brenner does a great job of showing us a loving and caring community that is not the norm that most of us know. I loved this story. It’s got a lot of heart. And it’s witty as heck. I even shed a tear at the end.  I think you might too.

I borrowed this book from the library and have no obligations for a review. I just got lucky  finding it on the new shelf. I love it when this happens.  The book is published by Little Brown. Great job, guys.


The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan


The Baker’s Secret

THE BAKER’S SECRET by Stephen P. Kiernan is much more than just another WWII novel.  It covers the Normandy invasion like never before. Is almost like the author was actually there.

Emmanuelle is 22 when the German’s arrive and take over her small village near Normandy.  Since the age of 13 she’s been baking bread with the village baker and is very good at it.  But when the Germans take the baker away never to be seen again, Emmy begins plotting.  She’s discovered that if she mixes enough pulverized straw in with the flour allotted her she can make the loaves stretch a bit more. You see, the German’s love her bread and have her making a dozen baguettes each morning, but only for them. Emmy makes two more loaves and distributes them among the hungry in her village. And, thus, begins a series of bartering which helps keep the villagers alive.

THE BAKER’S SECRET is filled with strong, courageous, resilient and proud people, none more so than Emmanuelle.  The lengths she goes to to make sure her people survive is far beyond the norm.

The scenes of the actual invasion are so realistic as  to almost make you turn away. I could hear the screams of the dying. See the smoke billowing  up from the beaches. Feel the hair standing up on the back of their necks.  And shudder at the knowledge of so many humans losing their lives.

The human spirit is made up of much more than we know. This novel shows as well as tells what it takes to be a village.

Emmanuelle will live forever in my mind and my heart. My hat goes off to her.

Thanks go out to William Morrow for providing the review copy. It’s a great book. Thanks.