Kari Edgens

Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe may be Jenny Hollowell’s debut novel, but the precision and grace with which she tells the story of Birdie Baker, an aspiring actress in Los Angeles, makes Hollowell seem like a veteran.

When we first meet Birdie, she’s growing up in small-town Virginia, the only daughter of evangelical parents. On the outside, Birdie is following the path to a religious life, but for as long as she can remember, Birdie has dreamed of becoming someone else. At age 20, she marries a young elder brought home by her father, but two years later, she walks out on her pastor husband and her parents and hops on a bus to Los Angeles.

Now, nine years later, Birdie’s life in Hollywood isn’t exactly as she had hoped it would be. Her resume lists a handful of unmemorable roles in films and commercials, and her steadiest gig is as a body double for a spoiled, frivolous actress. Everyone in the industry tells Birdie that she’s got something—that she’s real. But Birdie has been pretending for so long that even she doesn’t know what’s real anymore. She’s trapped in a place somewhere between the life she abandoned and the life she desires, and the city of glitz and glam isn’t as magical as she had hoped.

Using detailed prose and short, anecdotal chapters, the author has created a psychological portrait of both an individual and a city. While Birdie is waging her own war against personal demons, Hollowell illustrates that Birdie is only one of the thousands of individuals who come to Hollywood with a dream and get torn apart trying to reach it. At once witty, comic and tragic, Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe throws the reader into the unglamorous side of Tinseltown for an engrossing read on the obsessive nature of celebrity.

Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe may be Jenny Hollowell’s debut novel, but the precision and grace with which she tells the story of Birdie Baker, an aspiring actress in Los Angeles, makes Hollowell seem like a veteran. When we first meet Birdie, she’s growing up in small-town Virginia, the only daughter of evangelical parents. On the […]

Some writers ease the reader into their story, but Nancy Pickard dives right in with The Scent of Rain and Lightning. By page six, she has set up the framework of her novel and by the end of the first chapter, the reader is hooked on a tale of murder, mystery, family and love.

Jody Linder is infamous in the town of Rose, Kansas. On a dark and stormy night 23 years earlier, someone shot and killed Jody’s father; her mother disappeared and is presumably dead. From that night on, three-year-old Jody Linder was a girl with a story. Now Jody’s three uncles have upsetting news: Billy Crosby, the man convicted of killing her parents, has been released from prison and granted a new trial, thanks to the effort of Billy’s lawyer son, Collin. After years of comfortably living with justice—knowing the man who killed her parents is behind bars—Jody’s world crumbles as everything she has believed is thrown into question.

If anyone can understand the notoriety surrounding Jody, it’s Collin. The same town that coddled Jody treated Collin like a pariah as the two grew up side by side. Despite avoiding each other for their entire lives, Jody and Collin have a connection, and with this new case, Jody begins to see that hers was not the only life affected by this tragedy.

Against the backdrop of a small town like Rose, the reader understands how one event can define both a town and its people’s history. The standout feature of this novel is Pickard’s creation of complex characters that are deeply tied to history and setting. The characters are flawed, possessing feelings that aren’t resolved and struggling with the idea of accepting a new version of the truth. Pickard constructs a puzzle of interlocking events into which, as the story progresses, we slowly see how each character fits. The Scent of Rain and Lightning grabs you from the beginning, and Pickard holds you until the end, keeping you guessing the whole way through.

Some writers ease the reader into their story, but Nancy Pickard dives right in with The Scent of Rain and Lightning. By page six, she has set up the framework of her novel and by the end of the first chapter, the reader is hooked on a tale of murder, mystery, family and love. Jody […]

If you take one thing away from Heather Barbieri’s The Lace Makers of Glenmara, remember this: “You can always start again; all it takes is a new thread.” Kate Robinson grew up hearing this advice from her mother, which was drilled into her head during sewing lessons. Like her mother, Kate possesses a gift with a needle and thread, and their creative passion formed an impenetrable bond between them. But after a series of emotional blows leave Kate gasping for air, she discovers that her mother’s advice serves a much bigger purpose than a simple sewing lesson.

Overwhelmed and exhausted, Kate escapes her heartbreak and struggling fashion career with a trip to her ancestral home of Ireland. She stumbles upon the quaint coastal village of Glenmara and befriends a group of local lace makers. As Kate learns the secrets of their traditional craft, she finds the inspiration that has eluded her for so long—and soon the women are working together to create a line of exquisite lingerie. But not everyone is enamored with these new ideas. Kate’s presence in Glenmara has sparked controversy, and the women must summon the courage to face opposition and confront their own personal troubles. As they work together, the lace makers gain the determination to achieve their own goals and face their long-standing demons.

Barbieri found inspiration for this, her second novel, on a trip to the Irish coast and a New York Times article about Polish lace makers. Despite a fairly predictable plot, she has created an interesting story using exceptional characters and the dynamic backdrop of Glenmara, a traditional town trying to balance old world values with modern practices. Barbieri weaves together stories on life, love, friendship and family to create a multifaceted novel, where personal histories define her characters and influence their decisions.

In her affinity for literary patchwork, Barbieri has created an entertaining novel by blending a thoughtful story with a light read, perfect for this summer’s vacation.  

If you take one thing away from Heather Barbieri’s The Lace Makers of Glenmara, remember this: “You can always start again; all it takes is a new thread.” Kate Robinson grew up hearing this advice from her mother, which was drilled into her head during sewing lessons. Like her mother, Kate possesses a gift with […]

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