PROMISES TO KEEP by Ann Tatlock

A charming chick lit work, it blends the serious with the humorous to good effect.   Set in the 50s?  60s?  A mother and her three kids leave an abusive, alcoholic man and move out of state to the small town where her prosperous father lives, who helps her buy a house only a few blocks from him.  She gets a job at the department store which his wife owns.

But their first morning there, they awake to find an elderly woman comfortably seated on their front porch, reading their newspaper. Her name is Tillie, and she has removed herself from the assisted care facility back to what was once her home until her three sons sold it after their father died.  She refuses to leave, and her one son who still lives in the town comes rushing up to take her back.

Tillie shows up again the next day, insisting that the house is hers, even though it had been sold, because she and her husband built it, she has sweat equity in it.  The family can’t get rid of her;  she goes into the kitchen and makes herself a cup of tea. cleans up and starts to make herself useful.

When school starts again, mom is working, and the teen son has to go back to school, there is no one to take care of the youngest toddler, Tillie says she can do it, and they offer her a room in the house.

Meanwhile, the alcoholic father has followed them to the new town,  and secretly contacts our young 11 year old protagonist, swearing her to secrecy, telling her that the family will get together again soon, when the time is right.  He swears he has given up drinking and is now a model citizen.

She believes him, and meets up with him a couple of times, finally telling him where she lives, and even describing the house and the bedrooms.

Well, you can guess that such a sharing is a very poor idea, and culminates in a corker of an ending.

Promises.  Be careful what you promise.

 

 

 

GARDEN SPELLS by Sarah Addison Allen

When you see a pretty cover and a title that has the word ‘Spells’ in it, and the author has three names and the first one is Sarah with an ‘H’,  you know there will be some light magic, some kind of love story, and possibly fireflies.

Well, we lost out on the fireflies, but there was plenty of fanciful stuff going on, and love is definitely in the air.

OK, it’s chick lit, but it was lovely, basically about home and what constitutes home, and abandonment and reconciliation.   Sounds terribly heavy, but you know how a spoonful of honey etc. etc.

Claire Waverly was pretty much a recluse, a gal in her thirties who lived in the big old house her grandmother left her.  It has a bossy apple tree in the garden, which throws apples and demands to be in on everything.  If you eat an apple from that tree, you will learn what the biggest event in your life will be.  Since one’s death is usually the biggest thing in their life, it is not a good thing to know.

Claire has been estranged from her sister Sydney for ten years, ever since Sydney left town and never made contact again.  Claire never knew her father, and her wild-living mother  came back to town to stay with her mother, (Claire’s grandmother) when Claire was 6, because she was going to have another baby.  When that baby was six, she left again, and died in a car accident.

There is a wonderful character, a distant relative, Evanelle, who feels a strange compulsion to give people things, and it always turns out the recipient always needed the item in the future.  Everyone in town looked forward to seeing Evanelle, and her gifts.  Me, too.  I wish she lived around here.

After being physically abused by her current boyfriend, but afraid to leave because of their 6 year old daughter, Sydney finally has enough and escapes in the middle of the night with her daughter and comes back to the Waverly house as the only safe place she can think of.

We have the requisite attractive single male next door neighbor, the requisite best guy friend from second grade, now conveniently single and attractive, some snobbish women who look down on the Waverlys, and let me see, what else.

Oh yeah.  Claire makes a living baking and catering.  What makes her stuff special is that she uses botanical magic in her products, this flower for one thing, this herb for something else.  Like that.  Her products are in great demand.

Sydney is a hairdresser, and when the town sees the fabulous transformation that Sydney did to Claire’s hair, she now realizes she has her own share of the Waverly magic.

Do the Waverlys overcome all obstacles, and find the right guy?  Well, of course.  It wouldn’t be chick lit if they didn’t.  Do you wish you had a little light magic going on in your life?  Well, of course you do.  But look closely, maybe you do, and just haven’t recognized it.

As you know, I love happy endings.  Because being happy is its own sort of magic.

MISS BUNCLE’S BOOK and MISS BUNCLE MARRIED by D. E. Stevenson

These charming books were written in 1937.   The first tells  the story of Barbara Buncle, unmarried lady  in her thirties living in a small village somewhere near London.  She lives on some kind of dividends, and has a long time maid/housekeeper as everyone but the very poorest did in those days in England.  But she has a worry — the dividends are dwindling, and she is quite concerned as to how to make money to supplement the ever-decreasing income source.

She and her maid Dorcas discuss what can be done.  Barbara suggests the possibility of raising chickens, but the two ladies dismiss it as impractical, and not an activity that could produce enough income to justify the awfulness of raising chickens and all that entails.
But Miss Buncle gets an idea! She will write a book, and so she does.  Although she calls it fiction, it is a roman á clef about the people who live in the village and their doings. She used the pen name of John Smith.  She sends it to a publisher in London, not expecting much, but hoping.  The publisher reads it, and is thoroughly delighted with it.  He makes an appointment to come to see her and sign a contract, and gives her an advance of $100 pounds, and Barbara is thoroughly relieved because now she can pay her bills in the village.

The book is published and distributed, and is a great success!  A best seller, and the publisher is thrilled, Miss Buncle is amazed at its success, but a dark cloud looms.  The villagers reading it, begin to recognize themselves in the book, and although the names have been changed, it is abundantly clear who is who, and many of them are not shown in a very good light.  This book that is making the rounds is funny, and charming and there is a lot of talk about it.  Because it was published with a pen name,  no one knows who wrote it, Barbara is keeping mum about it, and the villagers are now sure it is one of them because who else would know them so well but another villager?

There ensues all kinds of comings and goings and speculating and the village finally settles on the doctor’s wife, because he knew everyone and could possibly come home and talk about everything he had seen.  It becomes clear to Barbara that this cannot continue and she tries to tell the village that she wrote it, but no one will believe her because she had always been so quiet and mousy and unassuming they all thought she was a little dull and not capable of such a thing. But at last they are forced to understand that their little mousy quiet Miss Buncle has indeed written this best seller.

After a number of meetings between Barbara and her publisher, a bachelor, they find themselves in love and plan to get married.  But things are heating up terribly in the village, and it is clear she can no longer live there.  She sells her house and leaves without telling anyone, so a committee of the village which has convened to confront Barbara and give her a good piece of their collective mind arrive to find the house empty and a for sale sign on the premises.

But the charming thing is that many of the villagers see how their characters in the book do things differently and decide themselves to make some changes.  A somewhat abusive man determines and achieves being a kind and loving husband and father, two ladies who live together decide on a long stay in Egypt in stead of the Samarkand that their fictional counterparts travel to, etc etc.

The second book is the married life of Barbara Buncle, now Abbot, and it is not nearly as interesting. She and her husband move to a house in another small village, said to have a ghost, which turns out to be a youngster from next door trying to scare away prospective buyers. It also has its share of colorful characters, just as Barbara’s former village.  It is more of a ladies magazine type story fleshed out to book length, with all the standard plot points expected in such.

I enjoyed the first book immensely, and simply enjoyed the second.  I tend to like books written in the early part of the twentieth century.  Whether American or British, they have a certain rhythm and flow to the language and the plot that  feels quiet different from today’s books.  Not necessarily better, just different.

It is the type of charming early twentieth century book that could only have been written in England, sweet, delightful and exhibiting a stalwart belief in the innate goodness of the human race.

Dorothy Emily Stevenson (1892–1973) was a best-selling Scottish author. She published more than 40 “light romantic novels” over a span of more than 40 years.

 

THE READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND by Katarina Bivald

A sweet, gentle chick lit homage to all those lovely books about books, about libraries, about book stores, about love, and about small towns.

Broken Wheel is a little, decaying shard of a town in the middle of Iowa, where an older woman, a lover of books, widowed, no family, starts up a pen pal correspondence with a young woman in Sweden.  The young woman is shy, and prefers to read than to socialize, works a dream job in a book store, and the two form a solid friendship, sending each other books.  I so loved that, except all my jaded mind could think of was the cost of the postage to do that!  When you order a book from Amazon sent to Mexico, the duty and the shipping cost more than the book itself!  Hence my love for my Kindle. And ebooks.

Between them, there is talk of the young woman visiting the gal in Iowa, and when her bookstore goes out of business, what has she got to lose?  So off she goes to visit her American friend.

Except that when she gets there, the friend has died, the funeral is just over, and the townspeople, calling her the tourist, install her in her dead friend’s house for the duration until her return flight, three months away.

Everyone is kind to her, cannot understand her love of reading, and will not let her pay for anything, not the restaurant, (OK, hamburger joint), the bar, the hardware/grocery store, nothing.  So she figures that she will try to do something to pay her way, by offering to help out the establishments, but that only makes the folks think she has run out of money.  Once she has straightened out that misunderstanding, she decides to open a book shop in her friend’s empty storefront, using her friend’s extensive book collection.

The opening of the bookstore generates a new feeling in town, where, as in all fictional small American towns, everyone is lovely and helpful and tries to get the young people together.

The book touches on LBGT issues, race issues, immigration, and even has a reluctant cougar.  All fairly implausible, given what I know about folks, but hey, it’s fiction, and what good is fiction if it doesn’t give us an improved world?  I think this is my big beef with dystopian and apocalyptic fiction.  I don’t want to see this world at its worst.  I want it see it as it could be at its best.

The book is by a Swedish author, written in Swedish and translated by Alice Menzies, and contains some puzzling assumptions but is no less likable for them.

If you liked 84 Charing Cross Road, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and Chocolat, you will like this one.  Not as deep, no real realism undercurrents as in those books, but charming in its own way.

WHEN GOOD FRIENDS GO BAD by Ellie Campbell

A nice, pleasant chick lit (oh, pardon me, women’s fiction) about four friends who met in grade school in England, and after an incident where they burned down a barn because they were smoking in it, were hauled off by their folks to go their separate ways.   There was American Meg, fat Georgina, Jen who married a guy 8 years younger, and Rowan, terribly naive and very beautiful.

It has the usual elements — boyfriends, betrayal, being dumped, etc.  When they meet in their late thirties,having been out of touch for a couple of decades  turns out fat Georgina had become svelte and successful with a design business in textiles and clothing, and had married Jen’s old boyfriend, who was the one who dumped her without a word.  Meg, daughter of hippies show business people, was herself still a hippie, if a bit faded, and Rowen, who called the get together, was a no show.

Ten years later, it is Meg who calls them together, hinting at a life or death situation, and the rest of the book is trying to find Rowen who seems to have completely disappeared.

The plot, engaging as it was, is not worth recapping. It is about friendships.  Not many people have friends going back to their grammar school days.  It’s chick lit — that means there are relationships, emotions, ups, downs, and a happy ending.  I like happy endings.

I needed a palate cleanser after that post apocalypse book.  Right?

WELCOME TO LAST CHANCE by Cathleen Armstrong

last-chanceA sweet chick lit …. oh, pardon me, women’s fiction, read.  I will have to change the name of my category, because women’s fiction sounds so much more classy and less derogatory than chick lit.

Young Lainie Davis is running away from her long time boyfriend because he seems to have gotten himself involved with drugs and druggie people.  She has no family, but does have a sort of friend in a city in Texas who has gotten her a job there, but she must be there by Sunday night.  She buys a car of uncertain reliability, and as she is driving through New Mexico, the engine light comes on.  I hate cars with engine lights.  You can’t ignore them.  I prefer cars that just make strange noises.  Then you can just turn up the radio.

Things are looking very bad out on a dark and lonely stretch of highway, and she sees a sign for Last Chance, food, gas, hotel, etc, so she takes the exit.  After another long dark drive, she is able to roll, the engine having died, into the parking lot of the only place that looks open in Last Chance, the local bar.

She inquires of the young bar tender/owner of the local motel, is told it is closed for a week, the owner being out of town,  and refuses her request to stay in the bar overnight.  So she sleeps in her car.

She meets the denizens of the tiny town, and the grandmother of the bar owner offers her a room in her house while her car is getting repaired.  But now, since she is going to miss out on that job in Texas, she has nowhere to go.  The single mother owner of the little town diner offers her a job waitressing which she takes, always claiming she will be leaving shortly.  When the ne’er-do-well teenage son of the diner owner is in a terrible car accident and is in the hospital in a town some distance away, Lainie offers to take over the diner until the owner can get back.

Meanwhile, the brother of the bar owner who was in the military is now discharged and coming back to Last Chance.  The bar owner is happy because he gave up a promising career as an artist in Taos to run the bar until his brother got home.  But, brother has decided he doesn’t want it, and shows himself to be charming, but irresponsible and undependable.

So what does the bar owner do?  Stay tuned.

It is a story about small town values, friendship, loyalty, and compassion.   It was a lovely book, warm but not sappy or overly sentimental, had a lot of interesting characters that you wish you knew in Real Life,  and some timely musing on decisions and unintended consequences.   There are a couple more in what I think is now a trilogy.  But I will pass on those.  Enough of boy meets girl,  girl is a pain in the patooty, boy rejects girl, boy and girl finally ………. never mind.

 

A WHISPER OF SMOKE by Angela Hoke

whisper-of-smokeChic lit, known in the higher class circles as women’s fiction.   This is a three hanky melodrama but I, being the hardened case that I am, only used 1 tissue.  And anyway, the ending was telegraphed from about the third page, and anyway No. 2, the book cover says “A beautiful, heart-wrenching story”,  so that gave me time to prepare.

It is the winner of the 2015 National Indie Excellence Book Award for Women’s Fiction, the 2015 Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal for Women’s Fiction, the 2014 GRW Maggie Award for Excellence and the 2014 Heart of Denver Aspen Gold Award, and Finalist for the 2015 International Book Award.  Not too shabby.

It is classified as women’s fiction, but for me, it seemed more YA, or even oh what is that other category … medium adult?… no, that’s not it.  Almost adult?  No.  Oh, well, maybe you know the category I mean.   I say this because it features Susanna, whom we meet at age 12, her three siblings, her very dysfunctional, drinking parents, and their neighbors, nice people with another big passel of kids.  It is set in the Viet Nam era, and her best friend is the neighbor’s kid, Calvin.   They grow up together with the usual teenage stuff, young love, young fights, different love interests.  And then Calvin in order to avoid having to work the rest of his life on the farm, signs up for military service right out of high school.

See where I am going?  See the need for the hankies?  Yeah, I thought you might.

The story also revolves around Uncle George, the family perv, and the knowledge that mom left home at 15 and married their dad then.  So all in all, it was an ok story, nothing too special but beautifully written, with characters you can sympathize with, but if you are of a certain age, that age being over 50, you have read this story maybe 30 times…. maybe more.

So final verdict?   Not bad, and for younger persons, I can see why it got all those awards.  For me?  I am old and jaded so it takes more than this gentle story to fry my onions.