Fall is a time when publishers release their big books, books that they believe will be big sellers. Last year it was Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming” that was the talk of the town. This year everyone is buzzing about Margaret Atwood’s "The Testaments," the sequel to her 1985 novel (and Hulu series) “The Handmaid’s Tale."
While you’ll be reading all about the big-name titles, this month’s Book Report focuses on a few under-the-radar books, books that are quieter and get less publicity, but are just as enjoyable.
The first one is Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy’s wonderful memoir, “Many Hands Make Light Work,” about growing up in 1960s and 1970s Iowa. Cheryl is one of nine children born to a college professor and his wife. When the dad realized that the influx of college students in the 1970s at the University of Iowa meant that their town would need more student housing, he bought up homes in the neighborhood, renovated them, and rented them to students.
Dad was a thrifty, do-it-yourself kind of man, so he and his “baseball team," as he called his children, did all of the renovations and daily upkeep of the houses themselves. The little ones removed nails from wood, stacked wood, and shoveled snow. The older children tore up carpeting and tore down endless layers of wallpaper (22 layers from one home was the record.)
Mom ran an orderly ship at home, and Dad did everything, from beekeeping for the honey to planting orchards so they could harvest fruit, to feed his big family. The family is Catholic, and their faith informs their daily life.
Fans of the TV show “The Brady Bunch,” and the HGTV show about the renovation of the famous Brady Bunch home, will love this book, as will anyone who grew up in a big family. It’s my favorite memoir of the year, filled with love, humor and joy.
If you liked watching TV’s “Parks and Recreation” for the description of small-town government, Nina Bocci’s latest novel, “On The Corner of Love and Hate” is perfect for you.
Emma Peroni works in the economic development office of her small town in Pennsylvania. Emma’s dad is the popular mayor of the town, and now ready to leave politics and enjoy retirement. He would like to see Emma’s coworker, handsome, charismatic Cooper, run for mayor, and he asks Emma to help Cooper win the election, just as she had done for her ol’ dad.
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The problem is that Emma is not a fan of Cooper’s. They have known each other since high school, and Emma feels that Cooper tries to skate by on his charm. She has been picking up his slack at work while Cooper has been courting the voters, and she has no desire to help Cooper even more.
Being from a small community also means the dating pool is smaller than in a big city, and Emma’s love life is less successful than her work life. Her mother would like her to date someone nice (like Cooper), and Emma’s recent dates haven’t exactly been winners, but Cooper is catnip to all women and that does not appeal to Emma. But when Cooper appears to be involved in a scandal, Emma has to come to the rescue.
“On The Corner of Love and Hate” is a delightful, sweet story, with characters who seem like people from your own small town.
Now that school is back in session, Laurie Gelman’s “You’ve Been Volunteered” (her sequel to “Class Mom”) is a timely September read. Jen Dixon has three children, two adult daughters and an elementary-aged son. Her best friend has moved away, and her husband is preoccupied with trying to expand his sporting goods store business.
Once again Jen has been asked to be room mother for her third-grade son’s class, and since she was so successful at that, she has also been asked to head up the volunteer program for safety monitors. As we all know, the better you are at a job, the more jobs you are given. Unfortunately this job is not as easy as class mom.
And once again, readers are treated to Jenn’s hilarious emails to parents about classroom activities, parent/teacher nights and what not to bring to the Halloween party. We delve more into Jen’s life, and I especially liked Jen’s interactions with her aging parents and her loving, supportive husband.
If you enjoy “American Housewife” on TV, “You’ve Been Volunteered” is a book for you.