Book Review Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land.
Like last week, the book I am reviewing this week is by a Seattle area author. It is a memoir of her hard-scrabble, (nearly) single-mother life and how she climbed out of that life to save both she and her daughter.
At 28-years old Stephanie Land is about to make her dream of attending university and becoming a writer come true, when she finds out she is pregnant from a summer fling.
All plans go on hold for the next five years as Stephanie struggles to feed her child and keep a roof over her head. With constant verbal abuse from the father of the child as well as little support from a boyfriend, Stephanie works as a maid in homes all over the area she lives in outside of Seattle. Making barely enough to get by, Stephanie sees the nitty-gritty of people’s lives as she cleans the homes of upper-class middle America, while only rarely ever actually meeting or talking to them. She sees unhappy couples, dyeing and depressed old people, families who aren’t exactly the perfect picture they show the world. All while barely making minimum wage.
Neither of Stephanie’s parents are supportive or in her life. She has no one. After living in a mold-infested apartment for a year she realizes the mold is making both her and her daughter sick. She has nowhere to go. Her resources are exhausted.
Stephanie finds an advocate at a domestic violence non-profit where she was a volunteer. Through this advocate she begins to realize her own worth and that she can make some changes in her life. She applies for scholarships and financial aid and gets what she needs to re-visit her dream of college.
And obviously she does very well there, as she now is a well-respected freelance author with work featured in The New York Times, New York Review, The Washington Post and many other publications. She focuses on social and economic justice as a writing fellow for Community Change.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four Stars for Maid by Stephanie Land. Read last week’s review of The Girl Who Wrote in Silk.
Location: Reading Wednesday
This is a beautifully rich tale of life and death, love and art in Florence Italy during the tumultuous 15th century. Told in first person from the viewpoint of a young Florentine girl, but told as her final life’s work as an old woman.
The young girl, Alessandra Cecchi, daughter of a rich textile merchant in Florence, knows she isn’t like her sister or other girls around her. Her passion of art and learning overpowers her, and alienates her from the life of sewing and searching for a rich husband.
Alessandra is also tall, awkward and not beautiful like her sister. Called a “giraffe” by her hateful sibling Tomaso, Allesandra searches for meaning to her life.
Alessandra falls for “the painter” who has been commissioned to paint the ceiling of her families chapel. But she marries a chosen husband “Cristoforo” who turns out to only have married Alessandra to appear heterosexual, which he is not.
During a terribly violent time in Florence as the church and the people battle for control, Alessandra lives a tumultuous life of her own not able to love the one she wants.
After I finished the book I spent some time in a discussion group about the book, interested in what other readers theories were about if “the painter” in the story is supposed to be a real person from the era. Certainly the book weaves real characters with fictional ones, and towards the end of the book there is a reference to Michelangelo that made me think this is who it was supposed to be. In the discussion group there was a wide range of strong opinions, and nobody seemed to know for sure. Theories included Michelangelo, DaVinci and several other 15th century painters.
Only Sarah Durant knows for sure.
A beautiful story about a period in history I knew little about.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Four stars for The Birth of Venus by Sarah Durant.
Read last week’s review of The Clockmaker’s Daughter.
Location: Reading Wednesday
This is my second Ken Follett novel. My first was Pillars of the Earth, one of the most brilliant books I have ever read.
Fall of Giants is a great book as well but didn’t have for me the same spellbinding story and imagery Follett created in Pillars of the Earth.
But I still loved it. The story begins in 1911 in a coal mine in Wales, and follows a series of families; Billy Williams and his coal-mining family of Wales; The Earl of Fitzherbert and his family – the wealthy land and mining family; the von Ulrichs – Austrian cousins of the Fitzherberts; American Gus Dewar; and Russian brothers Grigori and Lev Peshkov.
These main families and characters are used to build an intriguing story of the years leading up to World War I and the entire war time for these characters. Additionally the novel covers in detail themes of working class people in the coal mines and poverty in Russia as that country finds itself falling headlong into a revolution.
The brilliantly developed characters provide the story a platform to focus on important themes of the era including class structure and wealth disparity; women’s rights and the suffrage movement; aristocratic empowerment leading to the uprising of the lower classes; and the many poor decisions made by European leaders that made WWI so long and deadly – ultimately bringing Germany to its economic knees leading to the rise of Hitler.
Follett is one of our generations most talented story-tellers and I am a big fan.
Five stars for Fall of Giants. Read last week’s review of Stay and Fight.
Location: Reading Wednesday
One of the best books I’ve read since The Dovekeepers, and similar in style. This beautifully written and Homeric first novel by Joukadar is poetic and powerful. I enjoyed every word.
Similar to works by Houssein about Afghanistan, Joukhadar takes us to ancient Syria and present day war torn Syria in a melodic tale that weaves fact and fiction, myth and legend, family and heartbreak.
The story follows two young girls in alternating timelines, one traveling and posing as a boy in ancient Syria on a mapmaking odyssey reminiscent of Homer. The other a young girl posing as a boy to survive crossing multiple borders in war torn present day Middle East North Africa along a similar route to survive the horrific and brutal destruction of her families home country.
A remarkably told story, gripping and beautiful. I highly recommend this debut novel. I learned a lot about Syria both past and present and have a greater appreciation of the devastation for the innocent victims of this violent situation. I look forward to more works by Joukhadar.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Five stars for The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar.
Read last week’s review of A Long Way Gone.
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The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Arthur Pepper is a lonely old widower stuck in his routine and unwilling to venture beyond his grief for the loss of his wife of 40 years. Until one day when he finds a curious charm bracelet hidden inside a boot as he is cleaning out his wife’s closet on the first anniversary of her death.
Arthur Pepper begins the most unlikely journey as he tries to discover more about the charms and learns many things about his beloved wife he never knew. Arthur’s adventures take him from England to France to India and creates opportunities and experiences old crotchety Arthur would never have found himself in before finding the charm bracelet including being attacked by a tiger, posting nude for an art class and discovering he may actually know more about love and relationships than he ever realized.
You can’t help but love Arthur Pepper and this story of family, love and life and how you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Life is not over at 69. He may only just be beginning. Five stars for The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper.