Sharing books with Mom

Regardless of where you sit on the family tree, there is likely a mother (daughter, sister,  in-law, or you) in your life that is deserving of recognition. Just as I’ve shared suggestions of books for Dad in the past, mothers should have equal time.

For Mother’s Day, you want to give (or get) just the right thing.  One thing likely has not changed from the days when a handmade macaroni necklace was perfect – it’s the thought you put into it that counts. There are more pluses to giving books than the obvious reasons.

When you select a book you are opening a conversation. Are you giving a book you’ve enjoyed or one that reminds you of a shared experience? Is it by Mom’s favorite author or takes place in a city she loves? Whether it becomes her new favorite or not, talking books is usually interesting, often more so if you disagree about merits of a title.

Before I give some of my picks, I’d suggest you think about those titles that you’d read again, either because they entertained or informed you. They may be a perfect choice for gift giving. Please share your picks in the comments.

Here are some titles and authors my mother may see if she hasn’t already. Titles with links have my reviews:

  • Helen Simonson’s  The Summer Before the War or Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Two novels of English small town life with endearing characters, the first WWI-era and the second contemporary.
  • The Girls of Atomic City is a fascinating look at the integral secret role women played in the development of the atomic bomb. Oak Ridge was created almost overnight from nothing and was at the forefront of research (and social engineering) during the latter days of WWII. By Denise Kiernan.
  • Geraldine Brooks really does have something for every Mom! My favorites are Year of Wonders, a fictional account of a real community that isolated itself during the plague, and Foreign Correspondence, her memoir of her beginnings as an Australian schoolgirl whose pen pals set the stage for her career as a journalist and author. March and People of the Book are also great choices!
  • Israeli novels in translation are a favorite of mine. Three picks are The English Teacher by Yiftach Reicher Atir, a novel about the high personal price of life in the intelligence service, and The Hilltop by Assaf Gavron, a contemporary story of the complexities and absurdities of life in an Israeli settlement. Lastly, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-Levi is a novel about life in Palestine/Israel at the end of WWII and the beginnings of the State told in the rare voices of generations of a Sephardi family. This view has made it a huge bestseller in Israel. My review will appear soon.
  • Three very different historical fiction stories of strong women are The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes (19th/21st century), The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi (20th/21st century), and The Widow’s War by Sally Gunning (18th century).
  • Start her on Louise Penny’s Three Pines/Inspector Gamache mysteries and she will have books to keep her busy for months. A Great Reckoning was just released in paperback, or start at the beginning with Still Life. Rich characters that deal with life’s big issues in a setting you wish you could visit. There are many reasons her fan base is so loyal.
  • Perla, Carolina deRobertis’s magical novel about seeking identity during Argentina’s “Dirty War” will send her searching for information about the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, the women who demonstrated and sought out information about their children and grandchildren “disappeared” by the government.
  • For something totally unexpected, share one of these stories about the American West immediately after the Civil War. News of the World is a beautiful small book by Paulette Jiles about a newsreader and a young girl rescued from Indian captors. EpitaphMary Doria Russell’s novel about the legendary Earp brothers and Doc Holliday, has just been optioned for a movie. I’d stand in line to see either on the screen.
  • Speaking of the screen, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Smoot and The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman are wonderful nonfiction titles have been adapted recently.
  • I love Venice and I’m a sucker for detective stories. Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti keeps me coming back to explore that wondrous city. There are now 26 titles in the series. While the principals have aged some since the beginning, it is not critical to read them in order.
  • If you, or the mother in your life, enjoys short stories, travel, and mysteries, check out the Akashic Noir series of titles. There are books for cities from Baltimore to Belfast to Beirut and beyond, each with stories written by local authors.
  • Finally, some “drop everything and read” titles that are perfect for getting away. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney is a new gem, based in part on the life of the top female advertising copywriter in the first half of the 20th century. The Truth According to Us is Annie Barrow’s story of long-held family secrets wrapped up with lots of information about the National Writer’s Project which employed writers to tell the histories of small-town America during the Depression. Before Me Before You, Jojo Moyes penned The Girl You Left Behind, a novel of life in the French countryside during WWI, a painting, and questions of its ownership almost a century later.

This lengthy listing barely touches on the possibilities. I specifically avoided WWII/Holocaust historical fiction. There are many, many wonderful and well-promoted books in this genre. Cookbooks and food memoirs with rich stories would be great for foodies but they are specific to individual tastes (excuse the pun!) Short story collections are making a big comeback, as are narrative nonfiction titles. While a few biographies or memoirs have been included, an entire list could be made of this genre. Still looking for something else? There are many recommendations on the website.

Kelli Estes tackles 1880s racism and violence

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  • Unknown-3The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes (Sourcebooks, 2015)
  • In 40 words or less: Parallel stories of a young Chinese woman in the 1880s a modern young woman,  determined to find her calling are brought together at her family’s century-old island home.
  • Genre: Fiction with historical underpinnings
  • Locale: Seattle and nearby islands
  • Time: 1886 -1895 and the present
  • Read this fictional account to spark your interest in the truth about the expulsion of the Chinese in the northwest.

In the 1840s the U.S. was in desperate need of laborers to support the mining camps and build the railroads.  Chinese men were welcomed along the West Coast for this express purpose. So long as they were not integrated into the communities and didn’t take “American” jobs, they were tolerated. By the early 1880s organized efforts began to undermine their ability to work and to send them back to China, preferably at their own expense.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk opens on one of the most horrific days in Seattle’s history. Armed mobs are entering Chinese enclaves, kidnapping the residents and looting their possessions before taking them to the docks. Mei Lien, her father and grandmother operated a small store. Understanding the danger for young Chinese women, her father has had her live as a young boy and kept her by her grandmother’s side and in the store. After a violent confrontation, they are placed on a ship, allegedly to be sent to China. Late that evening, Mei Lien overhears the ship’s captain planning to throw all the people overboard to their deaths. After sharing this information with her father, he decides she must be saved and pushes her over himself, in the hope that she can swim to shore and be saved.

Inara Erickson is the youngest child of a prominent Seattle shipping family. Having just graduated from college, her father is “helping” her find employment. A family tragedy kept Inara away from Orcas Island for many years. Her aunt’s  death brought her back to the one place she felt at home. Rather than follow her father’s path, she undertook to turn the family homestead into a bed and breakfast. While uncovering the original staircase, one tread was unlike the others. Underneath the board was an intricately embroidered silk sleeve. Finding the sleeve begins her road to discovery about family, history, honesty and forgiveness.

As she went  into the water, Mei Lien was seen by the local postman and fisherman. Joseph rescued her and brought her to his small cabin, nursing her back to health. Though skeptical about her story, the murmurings among his neighborhoods and in town showed her concerns to be warranted.

Not surprisingly, Kelli Estes weaves these stories together to create this novel. Mei Lien’s story is fascinating and tragic. Her isolation as the only survivor from her family and prey to the racism in the community is heartbreaking. Island life was difficult at that time under the best of circumstances. Inara’s story has the clichéd elements of true love at risk due to family skeletons. But by having the modern story Estes is able to provide broader historical details on Mei Lien’s life through Inara’s research using the vast resources of the internet. The present day story also offers the opportunity for restitution and reconciliation.

Kelli Estes deserves a lot of credit for bringing the anti-Chinese riots and expulsions to a wider audience. Mei Lien, The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, is a wonderful character I won’t soon forget.