Thursday, May 23, 2019

Women in Sunlight; Frances Mayes and Maid; Stephanie Land

AUTHOR:  Frances Mayes
PUB. YEAR: 2018
FORMAT:  - eBook
RATING - 3.5/5

Our book group selection for May, Women in Sunlightis a story about (3) older American women who rent a villa in the Tuscan village of San Rocco for one year. Each woman is trying to figure out the next phase of their life: Camille, 69, gave up her art career for marriage and children; she's now a widow. Susan, 64, adventurous, successful realtor, now a widow as well and Julia, 59, with a cheating spouse and daughter suffering from addiction issues.

Kit Raine is a young American writer, trying to write a biography about her mentor and friend, Margaret Merrill. The arrival of the (3) American women, whose large villa is near hers, finds Kit easily distracted from her writing task as she begins to help the women navigate life in Tuscany.

There was plenty to discuss with this book: female friendships, later life self-realization, plenty of talk of food, wine, art, history, books and tourist attractions.  Several of us, including myself, were not fans of the writing style, it just didn't flow well and was tough to follow at times.  A few of us did not like the Margaret story line and thought it was unnecessary and that the (448 pp) book could have benefited from a good editor.  All of us thought it would be fun to try living like these women did.  Of course, none of the women had money issues and were free to travel and spend money freely however they chose.  It was amazing, almost too perfect, how well things worked out for these women spending a year together even though they really didn't have a long friendship previously. Of course, each of the women ends up pretty much  happier than ever in the end.  If you like armchair travel and want to feel a bit envious in the end, try this book.

AUTHOR:  Stephanie Land
PUBLISHER:  Hachette Audio
PUB. YEAR: 2019
SETTING:  Pacific Northwest and Montana mostly
FORMAT:  - audio/library
RATING - terrible - 1/5

This memoir and audio book, read by the author, was a huge disappointment to me. The description felt like a big misrepresentation to me:


Evicted meets Nickel and Dimed in Stephanie Land's memoir about working as a maid, a beautiful and gritty exploration of poverty in America. Includes a foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich. 

At 28, Stephanie Land's plans of breaking free from the roots of her hometown in the Pacific Northwest to chase her dreams of attending a university and becoming a writer, were cut short when a summer fling turned into an unexpected pregnancy. She turned to housekeeping to make ends meet, and with a tenacious grip on her dream to provide her daughter the very best life possible, Stephanie worked days and took classes online to earn a college degree, and began to write relentlessly. 

She wrote the true stories that weren't being told: the stories of overworked and underpaid Americans. Of living on food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) coupons to eat. Of the government programs that provided her housing, but that doubled as halfway houses. The aloof government employees who called her lucky for receiving assistance while she didn't feel lucky at all. She wrote to remember the fight, to eventually cut through the deep-rooted stigmas of the working poor. 

Maid explores the underbelly of upper-middle class America and the reality of what it's like to be in service to them. "I'd become a nameless ghost," Stephanie writes about her relationship with her clients, many of whom do not know her from any other cleaner, but who she learns plenty about. As she begins to discover more about her clients' lives-their sadness and love, too-she begins to find hope in her own path. 

Her compassionate, unflinching writing as a journalist gives voice to the "servant" worker, and those pursuing the American Dream from below the poverty line. Maid is Stephanie's story, but it's not her alone. It is an inspiring testament to the strength, determination, and ultimate triumph of the human spirit.

The book is nothing like Evicted or Nickeled and Dimed! The author, IMO, the author failed to take responsibility for her life choices. She came across as irresponsible, whiny, and, unappreciative and entitled at times.  When she fell on hard times, she was able to navigate her way around all the services available to her: temporary housing, housing subsidies, food assistance, childcare services and more but still complained about not being able to get organic milk and organic food with her allotments. She uses Go Fund Me for her own benefit, yet when she receives a tax refund instead of trying to plan for the future she buys herself a diamond ring and later finds a way to travel to Europe.  In addition, at times it didn't seem like she had her young daughter's best interest at heart. She takes vacations without her sick daughter, sometimes ended up in abusive situations. When she talks about her jobs as a "maid" she seemed to give cleaning people a bad name. She admits to looking in drawers, medicine cabinets and disparages her clients along the way.

Can't recommend this one!


  1. I read Women in Sunlight for my book club last year. Most people in my group liked it, but I felt like you did - the writing was so-so and the women fell into their new lives a little too easily.

    I didn't love Maid but liked it better than you did. I felt it was more about the houses she cleaned than about what it's like to be a member of the working poor. Her snooping did make me wonder if other cleaning people do that. I haven't read Evicted but thought Nickel and Dimed was much better.

  2. Dang, I don't remember too many with a 1 at your place!

  3. I listened to Women in Sunlight last year... improbable and unrealistic, I escaped into the women's adventures and enjoyed every moment! Thanks for reinforcing my decision to skip Maid.

  4. I read a book about a woman in Tuscany for one of my reading groups many years ago. It put me off Tuscany books forever. I don't even remember the title. And I agree with Brian: not too many with a 1 at your place! Thanks for the heads up on both of these.

  5. Well then, I think I'll pass on both. Sorry you didn't think they were very good..

  6. Women in Sunlight sounds rather unremarkable. Will probably pass although vacationing for a year without money worries sounds like a dream come true.

    But your take on Maid! Wow! I had it on my list but it is getting kicked off pronto. I work regularly with the poor and the sense of entitlement spewing out of that author just rubs me the wrong way. No, thank you.

  7. Women in Sunlight sounds like perfect summer reading. Enjoyable and fun armchair traveling though not flawless. Hard pass on Maid. It wasn't high up on my list but you definitely helped me make up my mind about it!

  8. Diane, thanks for your honest reviews. Both books are new to me!

  9. I thought about reading Maid and so am glad to see that I now don't have to read it.

  10. Maid has been on my TBR list for a while but i won’t be making it a priority now, it sounds shallow and self serving.

  11. Armchair travel yes. Tuscany yes. I think that would do for me.

  12. I listened to several chapters of Women in Sunlight and finally gave up. Couldn't get interested and just didn't care about any of the characters.


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