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Jen Jen

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The Testaments

Margaret Atwood

I might be the wrong person to objectively review any book by Margaret Atwood. I’ve been reading her writing all my adult life, and have yet to find anything by her that I haven’t liked. I’ve been listening to the audio book of The Testaments, the long-awaited sequel to Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. The most common feedback I’ve heard from other readers of The Testaments is, “it’s good, not necessarily what I was expecting, but good” and this is how I feel as well. If you’re waiting to hear what happens what to Offred/June after Handmaid’s Tale, you won’t find out on page one of The Testaments (or maybe ever……I’m just over halfway through the book and I haven’t run across her yet.) The Testaments picks up about 15 years after the end of Handmaid’s Tale. Gilead still exists, but it’s starting to erode. The narrative is told by three women. One is Aunt Lydia, who was in Handmaid’s Tale, plus two much younger women, teenagers really – Agnes and Daisy. One of these women has grown up in Gilead, with a wealthy/powerful commander father (so important that the household requires three Marthas) and one outside of Gilead to politically active parents who run a used clothing store. As always with Atwood, the voice and writing are pitch perfect. Aunt Lydia has become one of the most powerful people in Gilead, and she has perfected her manipulations. Since we are reading the testimony of Aunt Lydia, and she presumes the testimony may never be read, nothing of her thoughts and motives are withheld. Agnes and Daisy, on the other hand, are coming of age in a place where this is scary/dangerous, especially for young women. The three women’s lives are interwoven, despite Lydia keeping a distance from the others. I can’t say much more without spoilers, but suffice it to say, I’m loving this book! Bonus: For those of you who watched the Hulu series of Handmaid’s Tale, the woman who played Aunt Lydia, Ann Dowd, also reads the Aunt Lydia portions of The Testaments audiobook (and it’s PERFECT!!)

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On my TBR (To Be Read) pile are:

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which we’ll be discussing at the Beagle Women’s Book Group in October. I’m looking forward to reading this book that has been so popular with our customers—so many readers have told me how much they loved it!


I’m also going to read for our upcoming fall retreat. I’ll be re-reading The Line Tender by Kate Allen—here’s my review which first appeared in the May newsletter.

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Also I’ll be re-reading Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. I clearly remember walking around the house reading the book/multitasking because I couldn’t bear to put it down the first time I read it. And I’ll read Late Migrations for the first time—and I expect to love it!


Sally Sally  

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The Long Call
Ann Cleeves

How do you choose what book to read? I read that one of my favorite authors, Louise Penny, recommends books by Ann Cleeves, and a few days later an advance copy of The Long Call landed on my desk. How could I not read it? The Long Call is the first book in a new series, featuring detective Matthew Venn. Venn was disowned by his family years earlier, after renouncing the beliefs of their religious sect. Now he’s working close to the area where he grew up, and his first case involves a body found on the beach. Matthew is an appealing character; the book is well written; the murder investigation both complicated and satisfying. The supporting characters are an interesting lot, and will surely be developed over the course of the new series. Unusual for me, I listened to part of the book on (I had an advance copy—the audio book will be available in November) and read part of it. Both were good. There’s nothing like starting a new mystery series is there? Except that now I’ll have to wait for the next book!

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Ruby & Roland
Faith Sullivan

Minnesota’s beloved Faith Sullivan has a new book! Although it begins in Illinois, much of it takes place outside Harvester Minnesota, where several of Sullivan’s book have been set, and there are cameo appearances by familiar characters from those earlier books. Ruby Drake’s loving and vibrant parents went out one evening for a sleigh ride and died in an accident. Ruby’s only relative, dour Aunt Bertha, sent her off to work as a hired girl. She worked without complaint for two families, endearing herself through her work ethic, lively personality, and her on-going effort to read the books her mother left her. At the second farm, Ruby fell in love with Roland, the married farmer across the road. And, of course, the plot thickens. Give yourself the gift of a return to Harvester and the world of Faith Sullivan.



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I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death
Maggie O'Farrell

Unlike many others, Maggie O'Farrell's memoir is not a chronological account of her life.

Instead it focuses on life's moments of great danger or challenge.
O'Farrell's descriptions are very personal and beautifully written. Reading this book prompted me to recall the near misses and life changing experiences in my own life and to consider how I can best relate to others who have been or are currently dealing with difficult circumstances.

If you like memoirs, I think that you will find I Am, I Am, I Am to be intriguing and uplifting.



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The Clock Dance

Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is a master of character development. You really feel you know the people she is writing about. Willa Drake has been a follower all her life, pleasing her husband, her father, and her sons. When Willa receives an unexpected phone call, she impulsively flies to Baltimore to help a mother in trouble. Willa finds herself in new territory, meeting eccentric neighbors who treat each other like family! The author has written more than 20 novels and has also won the Pulitzer prize. The Clock Dance is an easy read with an ending that leaves you completely satisfied.


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Adrift: A True Story of Love, Loss and Survival at Sea
Tami Oldham Ashcroft

This is a short book, which is good, because you'll want to read it straight through. Tami and her fiancée set sail from Tahiti to San Diego. Despite their best efforts they cannot outrun Hurricane Raymond. Disaster strikes. As you read, you'll think this would make a great movie and yes, it is, with the same title. An unforgettable story of the resilience of the human spirit.

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Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O'Keefe
Dawn Tripp

In this story Georgia, her love affair with Alfred, and her quest to become an independent artist come vividly to life. After reading this book I went to the library to check out books with her paintings. I would suggest you have such a book beside you as you read. Tripp does a fine job telling why Georgia spent much of her artistic life in the southwest. Having spent time there myself, I could identify with her desert scenes. The author used the letters of Georgia to add authenticity and to make her come alive to the readers.




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A Better Man
Louise Penny

If you are already hooked on the Chief Inspector Gamache novels, just know that the important character who seemed to be gone after the last book is featured again in this one. So, if you were tempted to boycott it, don’t! Don’t anyway, there are other characters you need to follow. In A Better Man, you’ll be reminded about the delight of spending time with the Three Pines community. There’s only one mystery, no national crisis, a welcome relief. Still, the whodunnit aspects of the murder are far from simple. Penny’s done it again. (If you aren’t already reading the series, start with Still Life.)

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Believing the Lie
Elizabeth George

When is a murder mystery not a murder mystery? There are so many people who contributed to the death in this English Lake District drowning. Are they all guilty, or none of them? It’s not like Agatha Christy’s (spoiler alert) Orient Express; it’s a case where no one realizes the whole of the circumstances.

My favorite character is Barbara Havers, the dumpy, rough cop. However, she wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without the contrast of the aristocrats she sometimes hangs with. I’ve heard that the BBC version of the Lynley mysteries cast Barbara as too pretty. It really does make sense to read books before you see adaptations.

Only three more books to date in the series: I’ll be sad when they’re all behind me.




Rosie Walsh
Ghosted is a fascinating romantic mystery that unfolds with glimpses from the past, interspersed with the present narrative. The main character, Sarah, has come home for her annual visit to the site of an accidentinvolving her sister, Hannah. She is only home for a week.

Sarah meets Eddie in the park, and they begin an intense romantic relationship. Eddie is also leaving in a week to go on holiday, so they begin with an assumption that this is just a fling. But, by the end of the week, Sarah feels that this is the beginning of a long-term relationship. Eddie and Sarah say goodbye, planning to make plans at the end of Eddie's holiday.

The title of the book is "Ghosted," which I never knew had a different meaning in this world of social media. Sarah goes home and tries to contact Eddie via email, text, and phone. She looks him up on Facebook and tries to get in touch, with absolutely no response. Nothing! Sarah's friends tell her she has been "Ghosted" and that she should just move on. But, Sarah just can't believe that the intensity of her feelings for Eddie isn't reciprocated. She is convinced something bad has happened. 

Was she "Ghosted?" What has happened to Eddie? Why doesn't he answer her? Will we discover the truth? I can't tell you any more than that, but I enjoyed the read.




The Book of Night Women
Marlon James

This is one of the most difficult books I have read for our newsletter. Marlon James has written a really fine book that, I think, pushes the boundaries I've unconsciously become accustomed to in reading fiction. It's a graphic depiction of slavery on Jamaican plantations in the late eighteenth century. In particular, I'm referring to the book's startling physical, sexual, and mental violence. In a New Yorker interview James was asked about this very point. His response was that violence in real life is never cleverly written in finely wrought prose. I'm paraphrasing here, but you get the point. The book left me exposed and sensitive to the violence, both manmade and natural, we're surrounded by in the news every day. The trials of our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico, border detentions/separations, the seemingly endless war in Syria, gun violence... we haven't enough fingers and toes to count the instances. How did I become so unmindful (desensitized) to what's going on around me? What are the longterm effects of this historical trauma? Strong stuff!


Would you like to be a guest reviewer? Email Sally at

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