Friday Book Whimsy: Westering Women

Author Sandra Dallas is a favorite of mine for two reasons: a) She writes many novels About the Old a West; and b) She lives in my hometown of Denver. Well, really three reasons, the third being that she tells a hell of a yarn that almost always feature strong women who work together to care for one another.

Westering Women begins with an advertisement for adventuresome women of good moral character to join two ministers on a cross-country trip from Chicago to the gold mining community of Goosetown, California. It’s 1852, so the trip will not be easy. All manner of women with all sorts of backgrounds volunteer to undertake the journey, which will undoubtedly be difficult. Each one has their own reason for looking for escape.

And difficult it is, as the women face extremely dire circumstances from abusive men to challenging terrain to extreme weather conditions. Over the months it takes to complete the journey, the women grow stronger, more self-reliant, closer to one another and more trusting.

Maggie is escaping from an abusive husband, whom she thinks she killed in self-defense. She brings her daughter, who is shy at first, but learns to trust the women. She grows most fond of the woman named Mary, who is as strong as a man, unattractive, but loved by all.

I enjoyed seeing how the women went from being strangers to being sisters. Seeing how they gained confidence and a sense of worth made the novel a great read.

I have enjoyed all of Dallas’ books, and this is one of my favorites.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Last Midwife

I like books that take place in 1800s, especially if the setting is the Midwest, particularly Colorado. For this reason, I am especially fond of books by Denver author Sandra Dallas, whose books often take place somewhere in Colorado.

The Last Midwife, by Sandra Dallas, takes place in a fictional town in Summit County, Colorado, in 1880. Since my mom and dad lived in Summit County before they retired, I have a special interest in that area.

Gracy Brookens has served her small mining town located high in the Colorado Rockies for many years. She would like to quit, but the women of the town rely on her for her expertise. Not only has she delivered nearly every baby in the town for years, she also served as the only person in the county with any kind of medical background.

While Gracy has many friends, she also has enemies, including the medical doctor who finally came to serve the community. Still, she continues to be the person upon whom the women rely. That is, until a baby she delivers — the child of a powerful man in the community — dies sometime after Gracy leaves who she believes is a healthy child. What’s more, she is accused of murdering the baby.

While many people know that she is innocent, Gracy has her share of enemies as well. After all, a midwife learns lots of secrets while being with pregnant women in labor.

I really like Sandra Dallas’ novels, and this was no exception. Having said that, some of it seemed a bit unrealistic and forced. The ending — coming literally in the final sentence of the book — came as a surprise. I like surprises.

Overall, I recommend this book to fans of the author and fans of stories about midwifery.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Fallen Women

searchAuthor Sandra Dallas once again takes us to the Old West in the 1800s, this time to Denver during Gold Rush days. As we all know, the money from the gold in them thar hills brought about a variety of seemly and not-so-seemly enterprises. Establishments for prostitution abounded in the big city of Denver.

New York socialite Beret Osmundsen travels to Denver when she learns of the death of the sister from whom she was estranged. She soon learns that her sister was murdered. What’s more, her sister – herself a rich woman – was a prostitute and had been murdered at the house from which she worked.

Beret might be a rich New Yorker, but she is no weakling. Having devoted herself to working with poor women in NYC, she is familiar with some of the more unseemly aspects of life in the big city. She is determined to help the police detective in charge of her sister’s case find out who killed her sister, and more importantly, why. Though her murder appears to be the work of a serial killer, Beret is not so sure.

Fallen Women is a murder mystery, plain and simple. Many of Dallas’ stories are really more about relationships and character development, Fallen Women is about solving a murder.

I loved the characters in this book. Having read a lot of books that take place in the 1800s, both in London and in cities in the US, I am aware that in the 19th century, police officers and detectives were considered to be low-lifes, likely because most of them took bribes or were not willing to pursue a case unless they were compensated handily. I found this story interesting because the police detective who handled the case was from Denver’s high society and only worked as a policeman because it interested him.

Having lived so long in Denver, I really liked the fact that the story took place in downtown Denver. Thought the street names were different, I could envision where Beret was walking or where some of the places she visited were located.

There is a bit of a romantic element, but very unobtrusive to the main story.

I enjoyed the book very much, and would consider this to be one of my favorites by this author.

Here is a link to the book.

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Friday Book Whimsy: The Persian Pickle Club

searchI recently reviewed A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas who is one of my favorite authors. The reason I mention that book in this review is that though A Quilt for Christmas was written later than The Persian Pickle Club, the characters are connected. Specifically, the members of the Persian Pickle Club that is the foundation of the book by the same name are the granddaughters of the characters in A Quilt for Christmas. Because I liked that book so much, I chose to reread The Persian Pickle Club since it had been years since I originally read it.

I am surely glad I did. I needed a pick-me-up, and The Persian Pickle Club was the answer.

Harveyville, Kansas, is facing the same hard times as the rest of the country during the Depression of the 1930s. Crops are drying up, people are losing their jobs, and money is short. But a group of women meets every week to work on a quilt and share stories. Queenie Bean is a lifelong resident of Harveyville, and she looks forward to this weekly gathering just as much as the rest of the women.

The addition of a new member stirs things up, and a series of events lead to the revelation of a secret that has been held in sacred trust for many years.

The characters are lovely and the story is unforgettable. Though times are tough, these Midwest farming women are tough too.  But underneath the thick skins they must have to survive is a gentle nature and kind and loving ways. Queenie Bean, who narrates the book, has a sweet nature and a funny sense of humor, keeping the reader engaged.

I dare you to read this book and not be smiling at the end. And I mean down to the very last sentence.

It’s a wonderful book, as I think all of Sandra Dallas’ books are.

Here is a link to the book.

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Friday Book Whimsy: A Quilt for Christmas

searchAware that I am prone to superlatives, I will nevertheless tell you that Sandra Dallas is one of my favorite authors. Part of the reason is that she lives in Denver, having graduated from one of my alma maters – the University of Denver. The main reason this is important to me is that many of her books take place in Colorado. I think it’s safe to say that most of her novels take place in the West or the Midwest, often during the 1800s. Think Willa Cather.

A Quilt for Christmas is, plain and simple, a wonderful story. Quilting is a somewhat common theme for Dallas’ novels, and while I’m not a quilter, I love the stories of pioneer women gathering together to collectively create something beautiful, sharing stories as their hands work.

While the book’s main character is Eliza Spooner, the real star of the show is the quilt she makes for her husband Will. The Spooner’s farm is in rural Kansas, and they are successful enough to eke out a satisfactory living as long as weather cooperates and they’re willing to work hard. Will has left to join the Kansas volunteers to fight with the Union in the Civil War. Eliza sends Will the quilt as a Christmas present to keep him warm as he fights in Virginia. Like many volunteers, Will doesn’t make it home, but through a circuitous route, the quilt does.

Eliza, who is a wonderful character – one of my favorite characters of all time – takes in a mother and child who have also lost their loved one in battle. The newly-formed and somewhat odd new “family” personify friendship and love and the real meaning of Christmas.

While the story takes a sad turn as Eliza learns early on about her beloved husband, A Quilt for Christmas is not a sad book. Rather, it is a joyous story, and I was sad when it ended. I learned through a bit of research that Dallas decided to make the characters in this book the grandmothers of the characters in one of her most well-known books, The Persian Pickle Club. I read that book eons ago, and am already prepared to reread it.

I heartily recommend this lovely book. It will leave you feeling good about humanity.

Here is a link to the book.

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