Weekly Words About New Books in

Independent Bookstores

February 5, 2023

Forced Adoptions, Secret Abortions and the Complexities of Motherhood; Pulitzer Winner Shines Spotlight on a Hero to the Homeless

Looking For Jane by Heather Marshall. This compelling debut is a historical novel set largely in the 1970s and 80s that casts a critical eye on Canada's abortion laws and post-war maternity homes. Set against that backdrop is a secret network of women in Canada fighting for reproductive rights and women's right to choose. The book’s title was inspired by The Jane Collective, the code name for a real-life underground network of women in 1960s Chicago that provided safe and affordable abortions at a time when they were illegal in most of the country. Drawing on real-life stories, Marshall imagines a similar network in Toronto and interweaves the lives of three women dealing with issues of pregnancy, motherhood, and adoption who become connected to the Jane Network.

The novel reveals a piece of Canadian history that probably isn't studied much in schools. Between 1945 and 1971, almost 600,000 babies were born to unwed mothers through what was known as the "Maternity Homes System." Run by the government and religious organizations - so much for the separation of church and state - the program had a reputation for forcing or coercing mothers to surrender their babies for adoption. That chilling legacy stoked both Marshall's indignation and her creativity. In a recent interview in Canadian Living, she talked more about the story's evolution: "When I started thinking about this book, I thought it was about abortion, and then while I was writing I considered it more and I thought, ''No, this is about motherhood'... Abortion is definitely one facet of the story and propels the plot in a big way, but ultimately Looking for Jane is about motherhood and choices—wanting to be a mother and not wanting to be a mother and all kinds of grey areas in between."

Kirkus Reviews noted, "Marshall makes an absorbing debut with a timely novel about the complexities of pregnancy and motherhood... [a] deftly braided narrative, Marshall keeps the tension high as she reveals the devastating consequences of denying women autonomy over their bodies. A charged topic handled with sensitivity and compassion."

Rough Sleepers: Dr. Jim O'Connell's Urgent Mission to Bring Healing to Homeless People by Tracy Kidder. He's the winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award in 1982 for The Soul of the New Machine, and Kidder again proves himself a master of narrative nonfiction with his new book. Back in 2003, his Mountains Beyond Mountains introduced many to physician and humanitarian Paul Farmer, who devoted his life to delivering quality health care to some of the world's poorest communities. Twenty years later, Kidder has found another inspiring story - that of Dr. Jim O’Connell, a gifted and committed man who worked tirelessly to create a community of care for Boston’s unhoused population, including those who sleep on the streets — the “rough sleepers.” Here's a brief description from the publisher:

When Jim O’Connell graduated from Harvard Medical School and was nearing the end of his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, the chief of medicine made a proposal: Would he defer a prestigious fellowship and spend a year helping to create an organization to bring health care to homeless citizens? Jim took the job because he felt he couldn’t refuse. But that year turned into his life’s calling. In this illuminating book we travel with O’Connell as he navigates the city, offering medical care, socks, soup, empathy, humor, and friendship to some of the city’s most endangered citizens.

In it's review of the book, Publishers Weekly wrote: "Drawing on five years’ worth of reporting, Kidder vividly portrays life on the streets and in the program’s health clinics, and sheds light on various legal and policy matters, though the focus is less on the institutional forces that contribute to chronic homelessness than on the individual lives it touches. Keenly observed and fluidly written, this is a compassionate report from the front lines of one of America’s most intractable social problems."

This "Comfort Food" Novel Is a Story To Be Savored

Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love by Kim Fay. Last year's #1 Indie Next pick for February is now in paperback. It's a delectable and feel-good novel that follows two women in 1960s America as they discover that food really does connect us all, and that friendship and laughter are the best medicine. Author Fay serves up a kinder, gentler, and more civil world in this appetizing story, which is doled out through letters between the two protagonists.

When 27-year-old Joan Bergstrom sends a fan letter - as well as a gift of saffron - to 59-year-old Imogen Fortier, a life-changing friendship begins. Joan lives in Los Angeles and is just starting out as a writer for the newspaper food pages. Imogen lives on Camano Island outside Seattle, writing a monthly column for a Pacific Northwest magazine, and while she can hunt elk and dig for clams, she’s never tasted fresh garlic, which was considered exotic fare in the Northwest of the 60s. As the two women commune through their letters, they build a closeness that sustains them through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the unexpected in their own lives.

In it's glowing review of Love & Saffron, the book industry e-newsletter Shelf Awareness enthused, "Unutterably delightful...In this sweet, slender novel, Fay uses vibrant food descriptions to connect her two main characters and to assist them in coping with the dire news of an alarming era...Perfect for those burned out by current news cycles, Love & Saffron is a gentle escape to the past, and also a reminder both that others have survived 'unprecedented times, ' and that deep connections can be made even when people are physically separated."

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Hi, I'm Hut Landon,and I'm a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, CA.

My goal here is to keep readers up to date about new books hitting the shelves, share what indie booksellers are recommending in their stores, and pass on occasional news about the book world. 

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