The Canterbury Sisters—A Review

canterburysistersTitle: The Canterbury Sisters

Author: Kim Wright

Author’s Website


The Canterbury Sisters is a wonderfully warm truth-telling tale filled with the deep stories of a group of women who walk along the ancient pilgrims’ trail from London to Canterbury. The journey they travel is both physical and spiritual. Each day as they travel they tell a story that reveals some part of their own lives. The stories tell truths about their lives that sometimes they had never revealed before. Or, they tell a story of others, a story that resonates with their own truth. We as the reader travel alongside them. In so doing are drawn into their lives in such a way that we are invited to remember our own stories, feeling our laughter and tears mingle with these pilgrims.

The plot brings a simple balance to the rich storytelling. The main character Che has just lost her mother to cancer and feels compelled to follow her mother’s wish to take her ashes to Canterbury. Che begins in London where she joins a newly formed group of seven other women. They are led by a professional guide, a a young college professor, who frames each day with her knowledge of the path from Southwark to Canterbury. During the six day walk, they develop their own story as they travel. All that they experience is folded into the journey, including the rough terrain. the views of green fields, historic sites and Oast Houses, the weather, and the tastes and smells that echo the journey taken by Chaucer’s pilgrims long ago. The richness of the story builds to real drama as they arrive, at last, at the magnificent Canterbury cathedral.

This is a beautiful telling of these Canterbury Sisters finding themselves made whole. It is not a finding of false perfection, but of an earthy reality of beauty even in the flaws of life.

I loved this simply written but profound story. It belongs on my bookshelf of best loved books.

Ollie Rating: 5 Meows out of 5

The Girl with Seven Names — A Review

seven_namesTitle: The Girl with Seven Names A North Korean Defector’s Story

Author: Hyeonseo Lee With David John

Author’s website

Format: ebook

In a heartfelt memoir, Hyeonseo Lee introduces us to the grey austere life of North Korea. We learn of the indoctrination of North Korean children through hours of repetitive verbal drills on the lives of the great leaders. They learn to worship this ‘holy trinity’ whose portraits hung in every public building: Great Leader Kim Il-sung, his beloved son Kim Jong-il the Dear Leader, and his first wife the heroine Kim Jong-suck. Each home was presented with portraits of the two leaders to hang in a prominent place. These portraits were held in reverent adoration, had to be kept scrupulously clean, and were regularly inspected by the local authorities. Children learned of the supposed brave and loving rule of the people and believed their fantastical birth stories.

But this held neither truth nor reality besides the oppression and physical hunger of the people’s daily lives. Hyeonseo’s family were protected to a degree as they were part of the Songbun caste (receiving status from their grandfather’s bravery and loyalty in the Japanese war). In a hugely stratified society, everyone knows and must protect themselves by strictly adhering to the rules that surrounded them. Although the family was watched (as were many other families), Hyeonseo’s mother’s status protected her legal and black market activities, giving them the ability to survive reasonably well.

As Hyeonsco came to realize, the worst crime a person could commit was to speak against the Leaders. Those who spoke out against the oppression, or lies, or tried to escape, were swiftly arrested. Identity cards were a lifeline and, depending on the offense, a Songbun card might save you from a brutal beating, or a staged trial with prison or instant execution immediately following. She had a hard time understanding the depth of darkness that so many were living. The myths propagated by the authorities were powerful and pervasive.

The opening of Hyeonseo’s eyes leads her to search for a different future. One night she crossed the river from her hometown of Hyesan into China. The stories of the adventures and dangers she must overcome to finally reach safety are remarkable. She shows us the uncertain life without authentic documents in a regimented state; the corruption she faces, and the bribes she has to beg and scrape up for each step of her journey to get herself, and eventually her mother and brother, to South Korea.

There are horrendous images. But, she meets loving and humane people who care and help her along the way, sometimes in the most unexpected way. Her quick wit helps her to hide in a train full of soldiers checking IDs, or slip past an immigration post, or escape a prostitution abductor.

This is a simple book despite the seven identities Hyeonseo must take on during her travels. The book itself is clearly written and without guile. It is a window into a different world and there are great characters hidden in its pages. And, we are never far from a deep awareness of her respect for and love of family. The closeness she feels to her mother and brother is palpable. We too celebrate her eventual arrival to a place of happiness and safety.

It is difficult to read this story and not feel the pain of so many far from home: many still trying to escape from injustice, repression, war, famine, and abuse. The choices they have to make are often brutal and deadly, and those left behind often suffer for the freedom of others.

Moxie Rating: 4 tail wags out of 5


A Lesson in Secrets — A Review

Book Title: A Lesson In Secrets

lesson-in-secretsAuthor: Jacqueline Winspear

Author’s Webpage

Format: ebook

As a child I loved to read Agatha Christie.  The stories were simplistic and there was a gentility that reminded us all that despite the horrors of humanity, there were ideals and good people.  As I grew into my teens I discovered that life was more complicated and I moved on as John Buchanan’s 39 Steps became one of my favorite books.

So, it was with a sort of familiar pleasure that I discovered Jacqueline Winspear’s very English protagonist, Maisie Dobbs.  A definite Saturday Book, I was lulled back into the books of my childhood.

The book is set between WWI and WWII. Maisie owns a detective agency and is a modern girl in a changing world.  She has been fortunate enough to rise from her simple roots into a life of comfort. Through her connections she is asked to work secretly for the Crown and becomes a professor at a Cambridge College that focuses on peace.  But peace is not to be found, and a murder becomes central. As the book unfolds, we are drawn with Maisie into a deeper conversation as she looks at the growing Nazi movement and the righteousness of pacifists.

The story becomes over complicated at times, and makes some clumsy leaps. But, it was pleasantly authentic to my understanding of the period. And there was nostalgia for me that reminded me of why I fell in love with the heroes and heroines I found in the pages of my childhood books.

All in all, it’s a nice read, and hits a good tone to sit back and enjoy it with a nice cup of tea!

Moxie rating: 3 tail wags out of 5


The Book of Speculation — A Review

Book title: The Book of Speculation

Abookofspeculationuthor: Erika Swyler

Author’s Website (tumblr)

Format: ebook

It all begins when a bookseller sends an old book to a librarian, Simon. The book is a mystery that reveals a cursed past. The story is revealed as both cautionary tale and magical journey: peeling back generations of pain and death. Even as tales of his family begin to be revealed through the fragile pages, Simon’s own life seems to fall apart.  Laid off, living in a falling apart house that is threatened by the water that daily creeps forward to destroy it, Simon realizes he must uncover the secret that he believes is buried in the book.

He frantically researches the world he knows, the books, and finally a set of enchanted cards to save his sister, Enola. He must discover the curse that has caused the women in his family to walk to their deaths into the dark waters that surround their lives: each death on the anniversary of the last. Simon has only days to try to destruct the evil that will entice Enola into the water.

Along the way you find tales of the family from 1780.  Tales of the travelling circus, the human mermaids, the card readers and their cards, the Wild Boy, the acrobats, and the incredible Hermelius H Peabody who led the first group of performers and held them together.  Here is love and hate, treachery and death. And we uncover it all with Simon, piece by piece, as he finds truth and treachery both in the past and the present.

This is a beautiful book, a novel for, and of, the ages.  I was enthralled! The words flow over you like the relentless floods that sweep into the story.  The passions that hold the characters, the humanity, the embedded truth of life surges through the pages and grips you with the need to know.

Moxie Rating: 5 tail wags out of 5


Unleashed: A Sydney Rye Mystery — A Review

Book Title:Unleashed A Sydney Rye Novel

unleashedAuthor: Emily Kimelmann

Author’s Webpage

Format: ebook

We do not meet Sydney Rye until the end of the book, but we are told at the beginning that would happen. Starting out as Joy Humbolt, Rye manages to dump her boyfriend (hooray), adopt a large scruffy dog called Blue (who later saves her life), and get fired (over a coffee drink) all before the second chapter ends! What the…! How could there be anything more to come? Well, there is lots, and I loved it all. Great pace and good plot twists kept me focused. Of course if the story begins with a dog and coffee you have to write a deadly book to turn me off! Happily Kimelman writes a great deadly book!

The situation at times seems a little implausible, but it tends to add to the humor of the book. Joy takes a job as a dog walker, meeting interesting characters along the way. Some are friendly and gossipy and some have serious intent to harm! Her attraction to a couple of policemen adds just enough spice to make it interesting but not distracting. Although the amount of alcohol consumption by Joy and her friends was a little unnerving it did hold true to the action

The characters are real, the language real, and the emotions were real. When her mother arrives on the scene with her holier than thou stepfather, we see their fractious relationship juxtaposed with the deep love for her brother and their support of each other. It reveals not only the fierce pain of the moment, but also the deep pain that is experienced by gay children and their partners who are forced to claw out human dignity from parental rejection.

Good Saturday book, going to have to read the next one to find out about Sydney!

Moxie Rating: 4 tail wags of 5


God’s Bankers — A Review

Book Title: God’s Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican

gods-bankers-9781416576570_lgAuthor: Gerald Posner

Author’s Website

Format: ebook

Gerald Posner has produced an intriguing volume about the almost constant turmoil within the Vatican, a turmoil that is seated in the search for power and money by many of the top clerics and high lay officials charged with running the Roman Catholic Church.

Like an archaeologist digging with painstaking care Posner reveals the buried secrets of the past. Posner uncovers the often grimy and illegal pieces that create a story of a sordid past that time and again allowed financial mismanagement and deliberate misuse of resources to win the battles of conscience.

Untold millions over hundreds of years poured though the hands of the church hierarchy, from Indulgences, to Peter’s Pence, to possible Nazi Gold, to the formation of the Vatican Bank (IOR). Raising money to support the Pope did not stop (or sometimes even seem to start) at providing for the Christlike ministries for the needy and disadvantaged. Posner’s case is amazingly well documented and details the illegal pathways that the monies travelled, often through known criminal hands and organizations.

We are introduced to church leaders who tried time and time again to staunch the blood of innocent lives, but to no avail. The account of the ways in which those in power turned their backs on evil and injustice are masterfully illustrated. The Holocaust was but one example of pretended ignorance. It is clear that there were those in the church who attempted to draw attention to the horrors and respond in a Christian way. But the Pope’s objective was to protect the church first: An ethic that continued through, for example, the hiding of financial misfeasance in the IOR and a systematic cover up of sexual abuse perpetrated by a large number of priests.

The scope of the problem that Posner lays out is staggering. The information regarding the involvement of international organizations, legal and illegal, and the many generations involved, all served to add layer after layer in additional interest as Posner uncovered hundreds of years of abuse of Papal authority and its effect on the millions of Roman Catholics around the world today. Plus, fascinating insights into Vatican traditions, for example the Papal Conclaves, helped make this book one that I wanted to go on reading. This despite the almost overwhelming details that seemed at times to flow over me like a flood that made it difficult for me to keep my head above water!

Posner’s journalistic approach, carries his clear indictment of many actors named in this document, and provides a dismal view of an administratively healthy Vatican. But, he also allows a note of optimism to sneak in at the end, with the hope that the present pope would continue to bring accountability and positive reforms to the web of power hungry and political intrigue that has plagued the Vatican and by extension the greater church.

Moxie Rating: 5 tail wags out of 5


Uncommon Grounds–A Review

Book Title: Uncommon Grounds

uncommongroundsbalzoAuthor: Sandra Balzo

Author’s Website.

Format: ebook

My Review: I love Lattes and Cappuccinos (especially when my son-in-law Jon makes them), so a title like Uncommon Grounds smelled of coffee and I tapped my screen …buy. Yup, coffee and a coffee shop, I had found my latest escapist Saturday book!

In this book, three friends are opening a modern coffee shop in a small town. One of them is murdered and so the tale begins. Staying in business and solving the crime keeps protagonist and sleuth Maggy Thorsen busy. Newly divorced, she has invested in this new business venture so she and her friend Caron have a lot to lose if they don’t succeed.

Maggy is the organized efficient one in the story–well, most of the time. With the help of friends and armed with copious amounts of coffee she forges her way through death and danger. Her trials are many, including the distractions of a pushy local reporter, the discouragement of policemen, an unusually busy church, and small town politics. Nevertheless, she finally solves the crime at hand.

This book had everything I wanted in a quick read. It featured a quick and ingenious murder by coffee machine, and a strong female sleuthing character–even better she had a dog! There were other interesting characters to meet, as well. Although I have to admit that I guessed the bad guy almost too quickly for my taste. I appreciated that the “love”interest was not overdone.

So, why is Moxie giving it only two tail wags (see my rating, below)? While the writing moved at a good pace, I found myself irritated by the author’s balance. There was too much at the beginning — not enough at the end! At times the writing felt trite. There seemed to be a sudden effort every now and then to make it more amusing. I wondered if there was another wordsmith at play, perhaps an over reaching editor who felt the need to push in a clever turn of phrase. Unfortunately, I found these pieces jolting and clumsy.

However, having said all that, the book is fun, and, for a quick, amusing read, it works.

Moxie Rating: 2 tail wags out of 5.



All-Girl Filling Station–A Review

fannie-flagg-all-girl-filling-stations-last-reunion-mBook Title: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion

Author: Fannie Flagg

Author’s Website.

Format: ebook

My Review: When I don’t want to put a book down, not even to get a second glass of wine, I know I’m hooked!  Fannie Flagg has woven her magic again.  The All-girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is a whirlwind of not quite crazy characters, heroic women, and surfacing family ties.

It is a story of women in two family trees who become joined together against the backdrop of American history, small town life, and the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS).

Never heard of the WASPS? Neither had I!  But through the life of Fritzie Jurdabralisski we not only learn about them, but we experience their work and courage in the midst of the turbulence of WWII.

The story follows Fritzie, one of the daughters of a Polish Immigrant family who was born and raised in Wisconsin. She and her family ran the town Phillips 66 filling station. A close, energetic, patriotic family there was nothing that they did not want to do to help the “boys” fight the war.  Fritzie takes her skill as a pilot learned in her days in a flying circus (and that’s another delicious part of the story), and joins the WASP program. She is eventually also joined by her sisters, and their adventures are told mainly through Fritzie’s letters home and her relationships with others.

It is easy to look forward to Fritzie’s letters!

The women who joined the WASP program were unceremoniously disbanded at the end of 1944 and as readers we feel their loss.

But there is another thread that is woven strongly through the story, holds our demand for completion strongly through many chapters beyond the end of the war.  Another family, this one headed by the eccentric matriarch Mrs. Lenore Simmons- Krackenberry, pulls us in through the next generation with the delightful Sookie.  Raised to be the perfect Simmons, Sookie (or more formally Mrs. Earle Poole, Jr.) struggles to keep her octogenarian mother in as much reality as possible while cleaning up the messes that her mother, Lenore, creates. Lenore believes that she is the natural and legitimate leader of all.  For the gentle Sookie, Lenore is overwhelming! Fortunately through Earle, whom Sookie loves and married against Lenore’s desires, their children, and others in her life, Sookie can finally find herself.

This book is a terrific read. From the moment she opens the envelope from Texas and reads the name Fritzie for the first time until she solves the mystery of her life, this poignant romp is an adventure that is all too delightfully addictive!

Moxie Rating: 5 tail wags out of 5

NARA-542191-WASP-pilotLearn for yourself the true story of the WASPS.
(Department of Defense file photograph.)






Ashley’s War–A Review

ashleys-war coverBook Title: Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield

Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Author’s webpage 

Format: Hardcover

My Review: How do you review a biography fairly that has at its center an amazingly brave and brilliant young soldier who loses her life to an IED in Afghanistan while serving with the Rangers as a member as one of the first members of a Cultural Support Team (CST)?

How do you review a biography fairly when you find yourself distanced from much of the story by dispassionate and precise writing? Whose images do you let influence you? Is it one story or two? Do you relegate the author to the role of scribe or painter, discerner or critic, medium or archeologist?  In the case of this author, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, I assigned her to be both expert and witness.

I hope I adequately solved my dilemma by building the writing into a report for my imagination.  The report, reported, clearly and dispassionately! But when the biographer found an emotional voice to paint a fuller portrait of Lieutenant Ashley I White-Sumpf, Ashley’s War, finally became flesh and blood.

Women have often chaffed at the limited roles they are allowed to play in the military. So when the opportunity presented itself to become part of new mission being created for women, Ashley and others jumped at the chance.  This mission would train them to serve as members of an elite Cultural Service Team.  Only the smartest and fittest would make it through the rigorous training needed to complete their training before their deployment to Afghanistan.

A key challenge for the women was their emotional connection to their families. Ashley was just married, and she and her sister soldiers had to leave those and other family ties on the tarmac. As deep as these ties were, deeper still was their determination to be the best soldier.  As they served they became bonded to each other, and formed an additional family for their life.

Night after night Ashley, often the only woman on a chopper full of soldiers, all with their weaponry and equipment, flew into the villages where insurgents were hidden.  The enemy waited.

With women now serving enablers it was possible to search and question the local women and children. Now the army had additional access and intelligence that had been unavailable to the Rangers.  The value of these CSTs is well documented in the book. Their work became a way for the contribution of active serving female soldiers to be valued and promoted–a goal that Ashley and her sister soldiers strove to illustrate.

But Ashley was not to see the results of their work.  She was not to live out her dreams as wife and mother when she returned home.  And the book turns when one day on a routine mission her life is ripped apart by a an IED.

The pain experienced by her family and her comrades, and the honors and accolades given to this young soldier, the first of the women to die, juxtaposition awkwardly and beautifully in the immediate and in the long term.

This is a book that bears reading.  The heroic gives way to the human.  It is, I think, the way it should be. The witness did well. In reading it, we too become witnesses. Distanced perhaps because in reading their stories we are not living it. But none the less the reader does in their own small way share in their story, and, like the sister soldiers, understand the need to fight it through for others…even when you want to cry!

Moxie Rating: 3 tail wags out of 5


Nefarious Doings – a Review

My first Saturday Book is an awesome tonic for a blah week!

Book Title: Nefarious Doings: A Nell Forrest Mystery


Author: Ilsa Evans

Author’s webpage 

Format: ebook

My Review: This murder mystery takes place in small town in Majic, Australia.  The protagonist is Nell Forester, a woman writer who turns sleuth as a dead body is uncovered in the burnt remains of her mother’s garage.  Not a woman to stand on the sidelines, despite being told to leave it to the police by an attractive member of the force, Nell charges ahead through death, more death and attempted death. Surrounded by her five daughters and a mother who have no hesitation at all in expressing their opinions–especially about her libido after they discover that Nell seems to have recovered from her recent divorce. Nell navigates this mystery as she begins to look to a broader social life than solving the problems in her girls’ lives, answering quirky questions in her newspaper article, and helping in her mother’s book shop. But the real trick is, can she can solve the crime and stay alive?

I laughed out loud several times, and enjoyed the symbolic appearance of a laughing Kookaburra in the middle of this deadly romp. I look forward to reading the rest of the series!

Moxie Rating: 4 tail wags out of 5.