Unraveled Sleeve (A Needlecraft Mystery #4) by Monica Ferris

Unraveled Sleeve (A Needlecraft Mystery, #4)Unraveled Sleeve by Monica Ferris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My favorite in the series so far. I enjoyed this Betsy Devonshire/needlecraft outing immensely.
Great things about the story included the sense of place–Betsy and her friend Jill drive up to a needlecraft retreat at Naniboujou Lodge near the Canadian border. This is a real retreat that hosts real stitch-ins, and it was pure escapism reading about this place. I also love how the author tends to teach me something in these books…whether it’s learning a bit about the geography and history of Minnesota, to surviving outdoors, to, of course, needlework.
Once again, I was reminded that part of what I enjoy about this series is how old fashioned the writing itself feels. It reminds me a bit of a Nancy Drew mystery. Unraveled Sleeve can definitely be read as a standalone mystery, and would be a great introduction to the Needlecraft Mystery series.

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Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine

Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create DifferenceDelusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First off, I think that everyone should read this book.
The book is split into quite a few sections, and the first couple of chapters are very statistic and science heavy. As the book progresses, it continues to cite numerous studies, but the analysis of gender is expanded to a bigger and bigger picture.
So though the first couple of chapters seem at first to be almost too specific to be important, they do in fact set the reader up for better understanding the analysis that follows.
So what’s the bottom line? Well, the author uses a LOT of evidence which left me convinced of her premise that while biology and hormones have a clear influence on developing our male and female body parts, they do NOT demonstrate any kind of a clear causal relationship with gender. In fact, in all the time researchers have been trying to study this, particularly since the 1980’s on, the researchers are actually pretty frustrated because they can’t find much of anything linking male and female hormones with gender roles/preferences/stereotypes.
Unfortunately, several bestselling books out there (and the author gets very specific about this) have given the opposite idea, by misrepresenting the actual science. The disjunction between what the science shows, and what popular authors have claimed it shows, is shocking. The science doesn’t back up what we’re hearing in the popular media.
What science DOES show is that gender is HIGHLY, HIGHLY influenced by culture. Many studies (presented in the book) have shown how very susceptible human beings are to suggestions, both conscious and unconscious, that shape our perceptions of what it means for us to behave as men and women.
After reading this book, I came away with the conclusion that the science we have today indicates that gender is a social construct.
This book also addresses the question of why children raised by parents who are trying to be gender-neutral frequently seem to enact popular western gender stereotypes. Suffice it to say, after reading the entire book, I am not at all surprised that our best attempts at gender-neutral parenting may have no effect on children enacting gender stereotypes. The sad truth is that the society we live in today is so completely saturated with gender stereotypes, that children/babies are exposed to them from all directions, from unconscious and conscious gender biases, etc., and actual gender-neutral parenting is pretty much impossible, despite our best efforts.
Ultimately, this is a very important book, and I’m really glad I read it.

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Crewel World (A Needlecraft Mystery, #1) by Monica Ferris

Crewel World (A Needlecraft Mystery, #1)Crewel World by Monica Ferris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I’ve just recently fallen in love with the art of embroidery, and I am always up for a good, escapist, cozy mystery. I sampled Crewel World, the first “Needlecraft Mystery” by Monica Ferris, and was quickly hooked. This book is a quick, light read. I enjoyed the setting, the real town of Excelsior on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota. I enjoyed the characters, and I enjoyed the needlework aspect (plus a free pattern at the end of the book).
What surprised me the most-and what I really loved-was the quality of the writing. Here’s an example of an especially lovely paragraph.
“It had started raining sometime during the play, and was still raining when they came out of the theater. But the farther west they drove, the lighter the rain became, until out in Excelsior it ceased altogether, leaving platinum puddles as markers of its passing, and tree branches hanging lower, their leaves heavy with water.”
The writing style reminded me a bit of a mystery from an earlier time….perhaps something Nancy Drew-ish or even earlier. Anyway, Crewel World was a lot of fun, and I plan to read more in the series.

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Thereby Hangs a Tail by Spencer Quinn

Thereby Hangs a Tail (A Chet and Bernie Mystery #2)Thereby Hangs a Tail by Spencer Quinn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m so glad I discovered this super-sweet and also funny series featuring PI team Chet (a dog, and our narrator) and Bernie (his human).
The Chet and Bernie mysteries remind me in some ways of Bunnicula for adults (with the caveat that I consider Bunnicula appropriate and perhaps necessary reading fare for EVERYONE, adults included!).
What primarily makes this an “adult” book is that as Chet and Bernie solve crimes, Chet is witness to events, often not fully understood, that the reader realizes have serious implications, either regarding life and death, relationships, or even contemporary environmental issues.
Although at first glance, the story seems so funny as to be almost “fluff” reading, Spencer Quinn (a pseudonym for a well-known crime writer) actually writes with the talent of capturing deep feelings and wisdom, with a few simple, carefully chosen words.
Since the story is told from a dog’s perspective, we’ve got a narrator who is totally loveable, and also totally grounded in the things that matter in life. I loved this aspect of Thereby Hangs a Tail.
Chet’s perspective, in which the concept of worrying doesn’t make sense, in which life is full of joy and wonder, and in which his human is loved totally and unconditionally, are qualities which I value, and want to remember more in my daily life.
Thereby Hangs a Tail is a fast read, with a lot of humor, a great sense of place (the American Southwest), and two characters who will leap right off the page and into your heart. A great book to brighten your day.

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Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite

Ghost on Black MountainGhost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An atmospheric family saga which I really enjoyed. Included plenty of sad bits, and maybe went on a little too long in parts. Told through the viewpoint of several different female characters whose lives are interrelated. Some of the characters felt more fully realized, and some drew me in more than others. But overall, I am so very glad I discovered Ghost on Black Mountain, and author Ann Hite. Hite is a storyteller in the southern tradition, and one who I am so glad is sharing her gift.
*My hardback edition included a short interview with the author which gave fascinating insight into her creative process, and what inspires her. Love this stuff!

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The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

The Secrets of MidwivesThe Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really loved this book, which tells the story of three distinct women-grandmother Floss, mother Grace, and daughter Neva-who are all midwives, who all love each other deeply, and who all sometimes drive each other crazy.
What I love about it:
Author Sally Hepworth writes with respect, awe, and warmth for women who are pregnant, giving birth, and supporting other women.
Hepworth clearly has done a lot of research about the state of present-day midwifery in the United States, as well as how it has been regulated and practiced during the past 50 years.
The Secrets of Midwives goes back and forth in time between Floss beginning her practice in England in the 1950’s, and Neva and Grace practicing in Rhode Island, in the present day.
If, like me, you were fascinated by the novel Midwives by Chris Bohjalian, (and in particular, by the complex dynamics of being a midwife in a time and place in which modern western medicine often promotes hospital births as THE RIGHT way for a woman to give birth) you will also find much to chew on in Hepworth’s novel.

Neva is a midwife who works in a birthing center, where there are pediatricians and ob-gyns present, whereas her mom, Grace, a certified midwife, mostly assists in home births (unless a complicated birth necessitates hospital intervention.)
However, even if you’re not fascinated by this stuff, you’ll still find a lot to enjoy in The Secrets of Midwives.
For one thing, Hepworth writes a rollicking good tale. In Floss, Grace, and Neva, she has created three women who I cared about (though I will admit to feeling frustrated with all of them at times).
I also loved the settings…rural England, present day coastal Rhode Island…this was great summer escapism.
The Secrets of Midwives is by no means as intense or dark (for the MOST part) as Bohjalian’s Midwives. It reminded me tonally  of the novels of Kate Morton mixed with those of Julie Cohen. The Secrets of Midwives was a book I was pretty sure would end happily, even though it contained tragedy.
There were a couple of things which I didn’t love about this book. First, it was, at times, disappointingly superficial/gender oppressive. For example, the men that Neva falls for obviously have to be gorgeous, obviously, Neva is gorgeous, (in ways that are in alignment with all our cultural expectations for today!) Not a big surprise, but it would have made me happier, if this book, with so much going for it, could have challenged those norms.
I also felt bad for Floss’s lover Lil, who was long-suffering, quiet, and mostly ignored by the three main characters. It really ticked me off, to be honest, the way she was treated, and how it seemed that everyone just assumed that she had no story of her own, other than as a support to them.
That said, I ENJOYED The Secrets of Midwives. When Sally Hepworth writes another tale, I will be right there reading it.

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Black-Eyed Susans: A Novel of Suspense (August 11, 2015) by Julia Heaberlin

Black-Eyed Susans: A Novel of SuspenseBlack-Eyed Susans: A Novel of Suspense by Julia Heaberlin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Black-Eyed Susans: A Novel of Suspense, by Julia Heaberlin, is a book which was both more, and less, than I had anticipated.
This thriller is compared (as is everything else these days, insomuch as the comparison now seems almost meaningless) to the novels of Gillian Flynn. It is also compared to the novels of Laura Lippman.
I’m a fan of both Flynn and Lippman, but I think they write very different kinds of novels.
In this case, I think that both comparisons were apt, and it is in part because Black-Eyed Susans does have similarities to the work of two dissimilar authors that it is not entirely successful.
Black-Eyed Susans has a wonderful sense of place; it is set in Texas, which author Heaberlin clearly knows intimately and loves. In this way, Black-Eyed Susans reminded me of the southern-gothic atmosphere that Flynn crafts so well.
However, Black-Eyed Susans is much less dark in tone than Flynn’s novels. Instead, it feels wholesome in the same way that Lippman’s mysteries do. In the end, Black-Eyed Susans felt like a psychological-thriller that chickened out when it came to going to any truly “dark places.”
In a nutshell, here are a few other things that really stood out to me about Black-Eyed Susans:
I loved how Heaberlin included facts and idiosyncrasies about the Texas justice system. Her depiction of the death penalty in Texas was both enlightening and disturbing, an intimate look at what the town of Huntsville, with its “death house,” is really like.
Heaberlin’s description is based on research and interviews with experts (police, forensics experts, defense attorneys, advocates) and the novel never seems voyeuristic. Instead, in Black-Eyed Susans, Heaberlin gives insight into a powerful, disturbing reality that most of us know little about.
What I didn’t like as much was the way Heaberlin worked out the part of the plot which centered around our unreliable narrator Tessa’s buried memories.
The story flips between Tessa as an adult, counting down the days to her convicted “monster’s” execution, and her memories from childhood, as she first recovered from being assaulted by a serial killer. In the end, I found the explanation of what really happened to Tessa to be a bit of a letdown. The resolution detracted from the power of some earlier scenes in the novel.
Also, I was disappointed that the “fairytale” element of the story was never fully developed.
Ultimately, I think Heaberlin had two or three separate (and very intriguing) ideas for the type of story she wanted to tell. I hope as she continues writing, she develops more tonal clarity and confidence.
I highly recommend Black-Eyed Susans, especially for the fascinating peek into forensics, DNA, and the criminal justice system today. And I think many readers, will, like I did, really enjoy some of the wonderful and complex main characters, like Tessa, her daughter Charlie, their eccentric neighbor Effie, and the team of advocates who made them, and me as a reader, see the world in a new way.
Thank you to the publisher through NetGalley for my arc of Black-Eyed Susans: a Novel of Suspense. This review also appears on Goodreads and Facebook.

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