In Let’s Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World, Danielle Friedman sets out to do something ambitious. Friedman chronicles the rise of women’s exercise in the 20th century, the pioneers and the programs that rose to prominence and became cultural obsessions, as well as the overall trend towards health and fitness. Friedman argues that women came to exercise for aesthetic rewards, the goal being to look good, but that women stuck with exercise because it made them feel good.
Freidman begins her story in the 1950’s when the first calisthenics style exercises for women became popular. Bonnie Pruden was one of the first to become nationally known for encouraging women to “keep fit”. Her work on fitness for women and children would lead her to be on the team that later created the President’s Physical Fitness Test (yes, you have Bonnie to blame for that rope climb). After Bonnie, Freidman takes us through a tour of fitness trends from barre to jogging, yoga to Jane Fonda. This is the part that Freidman does well. We’re given lots of interesting facts and tidbits about the history of fitness. Before “athleisure” was an everyday word we had the women who invented the sports bra. (One of those women would go on to win several Emmy’s for her work costuming the Muppets on Sesame Street.) It’s fun to see how trends emerged and how fitness influencers like Jane Fonda reflect bigger societal and cultural patterns.
Friedman tries to explain that these fitness fads, and indeed all personal fitness, is largely aimed at middle class women who have the leisure time and money to devote to fitness essentials. However, other than asserting this fact time and time again Friedman doesn’t offer a lot of context or definitive proof. She does feature a few Black influencers and talks to them to uncover their struggles to “make it” in a world where no one looked like them. I would have liked to hear more from these women and other women who don’t fit the traditional mold of what an influencer typically looks like. Freidman also states repeatedly that women often come to exercise for physical transformation, but stick with it because it transforms their mental.
It’s 1991 and Charlie Jordan is having the worst year of her life. Her best friend and college roommate Maddie was murdered by a suspected serial killer and Charlie has retreated into a fantasy world to deal with her grief and guilt. Charlie was with Maddie the night she died, but after a fight Charlie left her friend and went home. Maddie’s body was found a few days later.
Despite the care and attention of a loyal boyfriend, Charlie feels she has to get away from campus to start to heal, so she calls a number on the local ride share board and snags a ride back to Ohio with a man named Josh. Charlie assumes Josh is a fellow student, but as they begin their journey Charlie starts to feel like Josh’s stories don’t add up. Soon Charlie begins to suspect that Josh is the serial killer responsible for the murder of her best friend and she has to figure out a way to survive this night and save herself.
I thoroughly enjoyedSurvive the Night and found the premise to be unique. This is a book that could only have taken place in the early nineties, because with the advent of cell phones and GPS a lot of Charlie’s struggles could have been avoided. But Sager knows this and tries to make the most out of setting this thriller in the not-so-distant past. Music and cultural events of the era weave throughout the book, with grunge band Nirvana playing a role in the plot development.
This book has a fast moving story and plenty of twists and turns to keep you engaged. Charlie’s way of dealing with her grief and pain has been to place herself inside a classic film instead of facing the events in front of her. This makes Charlie an unreliable narrator. You’re sometimes not sure if what is happening is really happening, or if it is what’s happening in the movie in Charlie’s head. I didn’t love the side plot about Charlie’s mental disassociations to deal with her pain and grief, but it works to move the story along.
In Northern Spy, Tessa – a producer for the BBC – claims to be largely non-political. Like everyone living and working in Northern Ireland she is impacted by conflict between Irish republicans and British loyalists, but she herself has never been involved. Then one day she looks up to see news footage of her sister Marian pulling a ski mask over her head and participating in an armed robbery. Tessa insists her sister must have been kidnapped or coerced into participating in the heist, but eventually comes to realize the sister she thought she knew so well has been secretly working for the IRA for years. When Marian tells her she may have a path for peace Tessa has to decide where her loyalties lie and how far she will go protect everything that is dear to her. This book is a fast read. The chapters are short and the plot moves quickly. This is a great read for anyone who likes mysteries and political thrillers.
Say Nothing is also about two sisters, Dolours and Marian Price. While the fictional Tessa and Marian in Berry’s book were not raised to be political, the real Price sisters were raised in a well-known republican family. Marian and Dolours were participants in several high profile bombings in the UK in the 1970’s. Both sisters spent time in jail, both were subjected to force feedings when they tried to go on hunger strikes, and both received widespread press coverage. Keefe’s investigation also turned up audio recordings, interviews Dolours Price gave to oral historians at Boston College that seem to implicate one or both sisters in the murder of Jean McConville, a single mother of ten children in 1974. Keefe’s book is wonderful at examining 400 years of conflict through the lens of a handful of IRA members and one murder. There’s a surprise twist at the end that is guaranteed to leave you with goosebumps. Say Nothing is perfect for fans of Erik Larson who want a fast-paced, well researched look at the ongoing struggle in Northern Ireland.
Four friends living in an upscale retirement village who solve cold cases for fun are put to work when the village developer turns up dead. If it sounds a bit like The Golden Girls meets Miss Marple that’s because it is, but in the best way.
Elizabeth is a retired intelligence agent, bored and desperate to keep her mind sharp. Ibrahim is a retired therapist who keeps his old client files close at hand. Joyce is a retired nurse who is struggling to rebuild a relationship with her highly successful and driven daughter. Ron is a former labor organizer and rabble rouser whose stay at the posh retirement home is paid for by his famous boxer son. Four friends with little in common on the surface except for an interest in murder and solving cold cases.
Their group used to have a fifth member named Penny, a retired police officer. Penny is now in a coma, but her old files have kept the group busy as they try to solve cold cases. When the greatly disliked developer of their little village is found dead with a mysterious picture by his side, the friends get to work, teaming up with a pair of police officers who are charmingly mismatched and amused by this quartet.
What makes this book so delightful is not the mystery, though this is a fun “whodunit” that will keep you guessing until the end. Rather, Osman has done a wonderful job of developing each character and giving us a glimpse of their life before they ended up in Cooper’s Chase, luxury retirement village. They are not elderly tropes, or caricatures of senior citizens, but rather fully developed humans who, as senior citizens, are often overlooked and ignored. Osman lets us know that’s shame because this crew has quite a bit to offer. The story is witty and fun and I found myself deeply attached to the folks at Cooper’s Chase. Lucky for me this is to become a series.