Tag Archives: women writers

Finished this book: The Seventh Mother by Sherri Wood Emmons

Cover of the book The Seventh Mother by Sherri Wood Emmons

Cover of the book The Seventh Mother by Sherri Wood Emmons


This story is told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of Jenny, an eleven-year-old girl, and Emma, her seventh mother. Jenny and her dad live a nomadic kind of life as her dad takes seasonal work around the USA. Along with the seasonal work, Jenny’s dad picks up seasonal girlfriends, and although Jenny had grown attached to most of them, she also knows that none of them will stay for long. But Emma, Jenny hopes, is different.

All three of these characters are white, and the treatment of race in this book is handled in a way that is weirdly gentle and unflinching at the same time. This didn’t take up much space in the book but was probably my favourite thread.

Jenny’s dad, Brannon, is a loving and devoted father but he has an angry streak that he shows to others. Emma falls for him and excuses his angry moments (initially they are only moments, of course), forgiving him and explaining it away as proof of his love. Classic red flag stuff and the kind of thing that would have me running for the hills.

As the story progresses, Jenny wants to settle down and go to school, to have a “normal” life with her dad and Emma. Emma wants a “normal” life as well, a husband and children and a house. But Brannon isn’t a Happy Family kind of guy, as Jenny finds out when she stumbles across the real reason why the past mothers / girlfriends who were in her and Brannon’s life are now gone.

Books about dysfunctional families fascinate me, and yet I approach them with trepidation. With this one, I got nervous as soon as I saw Brannon’s temper, and I put the book down for a while because I wasn’t sure I could read about domestic violence. But one thing I really loved about the book was that Jenny’s perceptions and feelings were almost always validated by the people around her. Her dad loved and protected her, her “mothers” were nice to her, Emma loved her, and the parents of her best friend also listened to her and believed her. That part seems to be a bit fairy-tale-ish to me, since it’s not the way I think most young girls are treated in the world, but I did enjoy the fantasy.

Later in the book, there was a bit too much god-talk for me. Like, I get in when characters in a book go to church regularly the same way I understand it if they diet regularly: it’s not part of my life, I don’t understand it viscerally, but I “get” that it’s part of that character’s backstory and lived experience and will influence how they see the world and blah blah blah. But when the plot starts hinging on faith or calorie-counting in a way that assumes I, the reader, will agree that’s a legit basis for life decisions, I start losing interest. Sure, I know that these are very important things to a lot of people, I really do, but for me they are actual disincentives to stay engaged with the book. (And also with real live people who can’t stop talking about their religion or their weight loss regimes.)

Overall, it would have been a fast read if I hadn’t put it down twice for days, once when Brannon started getting mean, and once when people started ascribing events to a god. Jenny is a very sympathetic character, and Emma would be if she wasn’t so naive about Brannon. No, that’s not exactly it: I liked the character of Emma but I felt the path her life was taking was just too predictable from the reader’s perspective.

It makes me kind of sad when a book full of characters doesn’t have GLBTQ* people, or people with disabilities (in this case, one person used a cane, but that was obviously because of her age, which we know because of references to “the old lady”), or characters with some awareness of their class position, and so forth. I guess it’s always a bit disappointing when the characters in a story all seem to strive for a “normal” life, which to them and to the author means the status quo. There are ways to write characters like that while the book itself interrupts that idea of normality, but this book isn’t one of them.

It was a decent book that will now go into my giveaway pile.




Finished this book: If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous

Cover of "If You Follow Me" by Malena Watrous

Cover of “If You Follow Me” by Malena Watrous


Here’s a book I read with enjoyment and very little criticism. It follows a young American couple (Marina and Carolyn) as they move in together for the first time when they move to Japan to teach English. The culture shock and new pressures and expectations are beautifully integrated into the story.

The book incorporates many of the themes I like to see included: race, sexuality, culture, personal growth, relationship challenges, LGBTTQ*, mental illness, weird families, friendship, suicide, and so on—without making a big deal about any of them. Continue reading

Finished this book ages ago: House Broken by Sonya Yourg 

Cover of the book "House Broken" by Sonya Yoerg

Cover of the book “House Broken” by Sonya Yoerg


This book had a dog on the cover, alluded to dogs in the title, and has a main character who is a vet. I was sold! Also, the blurb mentioned the vet’s mother’s alcoholism, which was another draw for me. I like stories about dysfunctional families; reading them helps me make sense of my own childhood.

Before I get any further, I should mention that I read this book early last summer ( or late last spring?) and just haven’t gotten around to reviewing it yet. So this will be short and vague.

It was disappointing that there wasn’t more dog- and vet-related stuff in the book, and what there was, was not always particularly convincing. I’m thinking specifically of the minor plot line involving an aggressive dog, which was not very credible. It almost felt like the dog and vet stuff was thrown in there to get the punny title.

The writing, as far as I remember, was good and smooth. But I wasn’t entirely convinced by the actions and words of the characters. Your mileage may vary, of course; what you find realistic in a character might differ from what I would believe.

The plot held my attention and I did enjoy the dysfunctional family stuff. Well, “enjoy,” right? But it’s always interesting to me to read someone else’s take on it.

This book is going into the giveaway pile. It was an okay read, but not a fave.

House Broken by Sonya Yoerg. ISBN 978-0-451-47213-7

Finished this book: The Sky Beneath My Feet by Lisa Samson

Cover of "The Sky Beneath My Feet" by Lisa Samson

Cover of “The Sky Beneath My Feet” by Lisa Samson

Spoilers near the end, but there’ll be another warning first.

Only a short way into this book, I realised it was full of religion. There was a moment where I considered putting it aside and starting something else, but I was already nestled into bed with my PJs and my fuzzy socks and my fleece housecoat, with the cats and the Fluffy Dog in their usual positions, so I decided to read on a bit and give the book a chance. Also, the way the writer introduced the faith aspect was kind of funny, and I wondered if it might turn out to be tongue-in-cheek (the protagonist, Beth, was on a riff about the Jesus Fish on her van). Continue reading

Finished this book: How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti


Cover of "How Should a Person Be?" by Sheila Heti

Cover of “How Should a Person Be?” by Sheila Heti

It’s hard for me to decide whether or not I liked this book. I think partly that’s because I don’t know exactly what it is. Is it autobiography or fiction or memoir or fantasy or love letter? I feel as if it is important to know if it is factual or invented, even though “factual” memoirs or autobiographies can easily contain lies or falsifications or dramatic enhancements. But for some reason, it really bothered me to not be able to tell where Heti was telling the true story, and where she made things up or altered them to be true to the story, if that makes sense.

This reads partly like the diary of a shallow young adult, and partly like a love letter from one friend to another Continue reading

Finished this book (ages ago): The Writing Class by Jincy Willett

Cover of "The Writing Class" by Jincy Willett.

Cover of “The Writing Class” by Jincy Willett.

I have already forgotten a lot of this book since I finished it back around the May long weekend and just didn’t get around to writing about it. I did like the main character, Amy, a misanthropist introvert author who hasn’t published anything in ages and who teaches writing classes. Her thoughts and feelings about her students were entertaining, although I admit I do have a preference for this type of sarcastic protagonist. The premise of the book was that weird events and deaths were befalling the class, and Amy was going to try to figure out who the culprit was by analysing the writing of her students. As a premise, it was fascinating, but it’s not how the story actually worked out. (The plot was kind of vague that way.)

Some of the characters were quite interesting while others were flat. I felt the trope of mental illness as an explanation for violent or bizarre behaviour was overused (you don’t have to be crazy to be an asshole or a murderer, and not all crazy people are violent, so chill already with the casual slurs and assumptions). The plot was not particularly believable, There were lots of interesting bits and pieces (Carla’s amazing house, Amy’s hilarious blog, the writing samples), but not enough substance in the story to hold them together in a memorable form. Amy seemed like she’d be a good protagonist for a series, and in fact I think there was another book about her before this one.

I don’t actually feel like I wasted my time reading this book, but it didn’t particularly engage me, and it’s already in my giveaway pile.

The Writing Class by Jincy Willett. 2008.



Finished this book: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic (by Emily Croy Barker)

Cover of The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker.

Cover of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker.

This book had most of the right elements—the main character being transported from our world to another one, magic, a woman standing up for herself and trying to change her circumstances, the importance of literacy and education—but somehow it didn’t capture me as much as I thought it would.

One of my frequent complaints about books set in other worlds is that these other worlds replicate ours so faithfully in so many of the manifestations of power and oppression. Baker’s alternate world is no exception: in it, women are subordinate to men, the poor are hungry and overworked and ill, and the characters are all presumed white (as becomes obvious when much is made of a Black woman from a land far, far away). I guess I’m just tired and bored of finding myself in the same old feudal society, as if there is something romantic and adventurous about a world where there is so much misery and despair and fixed hierarchy. Continue reading