Review: Whirlpool, by Eileen Enwright Hodgetts

Eileen Enwright Hodgetts

Product Description (from
The year is 1923 and the jazz age is in full swing. Evangeline Murray, a young widow from Ohio, is recruited by the Women’s Freedom Movement to represent the spirit of modern womanhood by going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Evangeline eagerly embraces her opportunity to achieve fame and fortune, until she sees the power of the River and begins to understand the risk she is taking. Joshua McClaren, an enigmatic battle-scarred veteran of World War I, and the best boatman on the river, reluctantly agrees to launch the headstrong Evangeline. Joshua has seen hundreds of bodies surface in the Whirlpool below the Falls, and has faced death on the battlefields of Flanders and has no respect for the charming, impetuous Mrs. Murray, and her desire for fame. Before the barrel can be launched, each of them will have to face their own demons, painful secrets will be revealed and the Niagara Rivers will claim two more lives. Inspired by true stories of the Falls, Whirlpool is a romance, an adventure, and the closest that most of us will ever come to taking the fateful plunge over the Falls.Whirlpool is a fiction that is based on reality. Seven people have tried to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Four have succeeded and three have died. The first person to make the attempt was Annie Taylor, a middle aged school teacher from Michigan who made a successful journey in 1901. Barrel riding at Niagara Falls is now forbidden by law, but at the beginning of the 20th century Niagara was a haven for daredevils of all types, and many of their exploits are included in the novel.

My Thoughts:
We live in an age where people put anything and everything on YouTube, to the point that, even when something disturbs us, we’re largely unaffected by it. If someone were shoot Niagara Falls in a barrel today, we’d share the video on Facebook, and make rude comments about what they were wearing. In 1923, however, stunts like that weren’t widely disseminated by smartphones and wifi tablets – it was up to the person doing it to make a splash (yes, that was a pun) with the press.

Whirlpool is, in part, about a young widow going over the falls in a barrel to make a political statement about women’s equality (something, I might point out, that we’re still fighting for almost a hundred years later), and that character, Evangeline Murray is a good choice for the role: independent, smart, and with little to tie her to the rest of the world.

But while Whirlpool is about Evangeline, it isn’t only about her. She’s part of a quartet of women – trouser-wearing Cornelia, simpering Iris, and sturdy Nell are the other three – and all of them are equally three-dimensional, interesting, and different from the rest. Reading about them is watching feminism launch its own wooden barrel, and I found myself nodding my head to various things each said.

Then there are the men. Standout, of course is Joshua McClaren, Nell’s widowed brother, who is a WWI vet and an expert on the river and, as much as anyone can be, the Falls.

(The Falls, it must be said, are a character – or characters – in their own right.)

Of course there are the inevitable romances, political exchanges and near-death experiences, but what, in other hands, would play like a Silhouette romance is, thanks to author Hodgetts’ deft care, a really compelling story of people who could be real, and situations that feel like the real life stories they were based upon.

Whirlpool is an excellent read, not just because of the period, not just because of the history lessons it sneaks in, but because, first and foremost, it’s a really good story.

Goes well with: A hot toddy. And maybe some bread pudding.

Review: The Preacher and the Prostitute, by Brenda Barrett

The Preacher and the Prostitute
by Brenda Barrett

Product Description (from
Maribel struggled to forget her past, when she used to dabble in prostitution, made porn videos and was a nude poster girl. She became a Christian and turned her life around and made a decision to use her singing talent to give glory to God. However, she quickly realized that a young, single, attractive, talented girl was never going to remain unnoticed at church. First, she captures the attention of a jealous church sister who is determined to dig into her mysterious past and then the new pastor who seemed to reciprocate her affection. After falling in love with him, her past rears its ugly head and Maribel realizes that she has to tell her new-found love the truth about her history before she can accept his marriage proposal. Can a preacher and an ex- prostitute be happy together?

My Thoughts:
When author Brenda Barrett saw my intro post at a website where bloggers and authors can connect with each other and sent me an email, it actually got lost in my spam filter for two weeks. When I finally rescued her message, I initially wrote a polite note telling her that while I am all about supporting women writers, her book is a Christian romance, and that’s not a genre I’m really fond of. She asked me to give it a try, anyway, promising that it wasn’t “preachy,” and because I felt bad about having had her mail in digital limbo I agreed.

You’d think, on the surface, that I wouldn’t be able to relate to The Preacher and the Prostitute at all. After all, like the author, the lead character, Maribel, is Jamaican-born, and the flavor of Christianity represented in the book is something that brings to mind words like “gospel choir,” and “Baptist,” whereas I’m a culturally-Catholic, currently-vacillating-between-Episcopalian-and-Unitarian-Universalist, Italian/German/Welsh woman who was born in New Jersey and grew up in Colorado and California, and spent time in South Dakota before moving to Texas.

The thing is, fundamentally, this book isn’t about ethnicity or religion, it’s about something much more universal: women finding themselves. Maribel’s story could be any woman’s story. How many of us are one paycheck away from turning to money-making methods of questionable morality? How many of us just want to find the right partner, the best friends? How many of us have a deep, dark secret we haven’t shared with our spouse or partner? How many of us are trying to rebuild ourselves, not in the image society first presented to us, but in our OWN image?

This is the story that Ms. Barrett tells, through Maribel and her journey, and she tells it deftly. The scenes with all the church women, dressed to the nines and talking gossip and gospel in balanced ratios sing with truth, and bring nods of understanding accompanied by amused smiles and audible chuckling. Maribel’s relationship with her “best friend” is also incredibly truthful, as is her battle with herself about what, and when, to share her story.

Barrett handles dialogue in a way that suggests a musical ear. Every character is distinct on the page, which makes them live more in the mind’s eye (and ear). Nothing seemed overly contrived – not too formal, not too far into caricature.

As for the Christian aspect of the book, yes, many of the scenes are set in and around church, and yes, Maribel’s partner is a pastor, but Barrett was right when she told me the book wasn’t preachy. It’s simply an honest depiction of one slice of the cultural pie, a portrait of people who try to live their faith in a world that doesn’t always make doing so easy.

Bottom line: I went into reading The Preacher and the Prostitute expecting a formula romance with heavy Christian overtones, and what I got was a rich story with romantic elements that were well-balanced by universal truths and a thematic question: Will he like me if he knows who I really am?

Goes well with…hot tea and butter cookies. I recommend Pepperidge Farm Milanos.

Ms. Barrett is doing a giveaway of her book, which you can participate in (one lucky winner will receive a $50 gift card to Amazon). Link:

Mini-Review: The Help, by Karen Stockett

The Help
Karen Stockett

This book is more than three years old and has been made into an awesome film, so I’m not going to bother with the product description. It’s been on my Kindle for over a year. I finally saw the movie last month. I finally finished the book just last week (I was reading stuff for review and needed a break from the stuff I HAD to read), and loved it.

I liked that each character had her own voice, that Skeeter was distinct from Hilly and Celia, and that Aibelene and Minnie had their own voices as well.

I loved the references to who did or didn’t have a/c. And to Skeeter lugging that typewriter EVERYWHERE.

It was a deeply satisfying read about a deeply troubling time in American history.

Review: The Legend of Rachel Petersen, by J.T. Baroni

The Legend of Rachel Petersen
by J.T. Baroni

Product Description (from
Did his book raise the dead? Outraged when The Post Gazette overlooks him for a promotion, thirty-nine year old sports writer, Christian Kane quits and moves to the country to write fiction. Inspiration flows from a grave he stumbles upon in the woods. He compiles The Legend of Rachel Petersen, a fascinating story revolving around the dead twelve year old girl lying beneath the weathered tombstone. His book becomes a Best Seller; then Hollywood makes it in to a blockbuster movie. Kane becomes rich and famous, but only to have Rachel rise from the grave to seek revenge on him for slandering her name!

My Thoughts:
When J.T. Baroni asked me to read his book, The Legend of Rachel Petersen, I said yes because I love reading dark fiction in the autumn, and The Legend of Rachel Petersen was a perfect choice.

At first, this book is the story of Christian Kane, a sports journalist who is perceived as being obsolete because of his lack of tech-savvy. He doesn’t own his own computer, and carries a cell phone only because it’s required by his boss. At first, his wife, Shelby, comes across as a bit of a bimbo. The reality is that – tech knowledge aside – neither is true. The Kanes move to the woods and Christian decides to try writing fiction.

Anyone who has ever tried to come up with a fresh take on vampires knows that doing so is incredibly difficult. Christian is no exception, and it’s because of Shelby’s insightful comments that he scraps his formulaic story. On a walk through the woods, he stumbles across the grave of a little girl, and that becomes his inspiration.

At that point what could have been an ordinary ghost story becomes the literary equivalent of nesting dolls, with stories, within stories, within stories. There’s Kane’s own novel about the story of this long-dead child’s grave being discovered by two young boys tracking a deer; then there’s the boys’ story of discovering dead girl’s – the eponymous Rachel’s – identity and the truth of her life and death, and then there’s the dual story told to them, and seen by us, that explains why she was buried in the middle of the woods.

It could be a cheesy set-up, but Baroni never lets us forget which level of the tale we’re in, and his writing voice does a good job at changing to reflect each strata of story.

Also deftly handled is the twist at the end of the novel, which surprised me even though I’d been warned that a twist was coming.

The Legend of Rachel Petersen is J.T. Baroni’s debut novel. I look forward to his next work, because this tale was gripping and ghostly in just the right proportions.

Goes well with venison stew and apple cider.

Mini-Review: The Authoritative Guide to Safer Sex

I’ve been happily married for almost eighteen years (which makes me sound ancient, I know, but I got married before I was actually born – it was this whole wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey thing…) so I don’t really need a guide to safer sex, especially since I own a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves which is probably the best guide to women’s health (sexual and otherwise) ever written for non-medical folk.

I also don’t have much use for dating sites, though I have no problem with them.

Nevertheless, when Kaitlin Moore asked me to check out her co-written Authoritative Guide to Safer Sex and maybe linked to it here, I said I’d check it out.

It’s an excellent guide to the basics of safer sex, and if you’re in the dating world, you should totally read it.

(And for a deeper understanding, check out Our Bodies, Ourselves, as well. It’s a classic.)

NOTE: Kaitlin asked me if I’d stick a link to the Guide on the blog. I will do so later this week, but I think everyone – male or female – is obligated to protect themselves, hence this post, which is unsolicited.