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  • Writer's pictureFive Directions Press

Books We Loved, Oct. 2021

How did it get to be fall already? And not just fall, but the middle of October. The end of Daylight Savings approaches, and the evenings lengthen with each day that passes. Definitely time to stock up on some good books. Here are a few of our suggestions, with more to come as winter closes in.

Amy Bloom, White Houses

(Penguin Random House, 2018)

If we haven’t heard enough about Eleanor Roosevelt’s lover, Lorena Hickok, here’s a book that features “Hick” front and center. It's a rollicking, if short, read. Lorena grows up the hard way, assaulted by her father as a barely-teenaged girl, filling in for her dying and then dead mother in more ways than one, on a hardscrabble egg farm in South Dakota. That she becomes the beloved source of freedom and friction for Eleanor Roosevelt is surprising enough, but the book gives us the depth of their love, Lorena's accomplishments and sacrifices as a journalist, and the duty and sorrow that Eleanor had to live with to become the great woman she was.

“The first thing I knew in this world was that I was alone and unseen. Then I knew I was not.” At the end of the book, Lorena, almost old and certainly unwell, surrenders to the knowledge that Eleanor loved her, always and well, all while she kept going with the endless duties as the First Lady, the Former First Lady, and the crusader that she was.

Lorena Hickok was a very strange woman—a strong, battered, brave, and frightened woman with a great love. Eleanor Roosevelt was a force of nature—brilliant, courageous, caring, and devoted. Loyal to FDR, loyal to the nation and its people, champion of the oppressed, and practical and thoughtful to the bitter end, Eleanor was a gift to our country. Lorena saw that gift and cherished it.

This book is not to be missed.—CHL

Ilene Schneider, Yom Killer

(Aakenbaaken & Kent, 2017)

This is the third of a series featuring Aviva Cohen, like the author one of the first ordained female rabbis in the United States and an avid bird watcher. Aviva has a feisty mother in her nineties with a history of rabble-rousing, a rather staid and judgmental sister, an ex-husband who returns as the town’s temporary police chief in book 1, a tech whiz of a niece, and a penchant for falling over crimes both in the making and recently completed.

In this book her mother winds up in the hospital with a concussion, and Aviva leaves her home in New Jersey with Steve, the ex-husband, to help out. But when she gets to Boston, she discovers that something very odd is going on both at the senior living center where her mother lives and at the hospital where Mom is being treated. Being Aviva, she can’t stand by in the face of fraud and injustice, and the hunt is underway.

If you’re reading the series, it makes sense to start with Chanukah Guilt, where the various relationships between Aviva and her family are laid out, but of the three, Yom Killer is my favorite. Schneider’s keen eye for Boston, a city I love, and the wonderfully complex characters—starting with Aviva herself—make this a fun read.—CPL

Rowenna Miller, Torn (Orbit, 2018)

In the continuum between historical romance and fantasy, Rowenna Miller’s Torn leans toward the former. A meticulously constructed novel about an aspirational seamstress who finds herself in the middle of political turmoil, Torn is more intimate and approachable than many fantasies, which swirl from one tumultuous event to the next, constantly upping the ante.

Sophie, whose parents immigrated from the country of Galatine, has little to do with her ancestral culture, other than the talent for spells which her mother helped her develop. The spells for good fortune, a part of Galatine culture, were traditionally carved on simple tablets, but Sophie, an ambitious woman, has begun to incorporate them into the stitches of the expensive clothes she makes.

Sophie’s particular skill set make her interesting to her wealthy new client, a cultivated noblewoman famous for the salons she hosts, which provide opportunity for lively exchanges and artistic endeavors. Sophie is welcomed to their parties, where she finds not only sympathetic conversationalists but a very handsome duke.

However, not everyone is as fortunate (or ingenuous) as Sophie, and the disenfranchised population is growing restive. Her beloved brother, Kristos, would love to see the nobility toppled and a more egalitarian regime set up.

Sophie is intelligent but practical. After having to steal food when she and her brother were orphaned, she only wants a successful business and decent wages for her apprentices. But with her idealistic brother fostering a rebellion, a sinister professor who is exploiting the political divide, and a sincere and thoughtful suitor who happens to be in line for the throne, she soon finds herself torn.

I liked that this book was nuanced. Instead of dealing with the tropes of having to save the world, it explored the life of a working woman who has the talent to influence events slightly through her spells. Much like real life, there was no magic solution, rather moments of beauty and small kindnesses.—GM

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