What’s on Your Bookshelf: March 18

This Friday, I’m joining Donna at Retirement Reflections and some of her blogging friends for their monthly What’s on your Bookshelf?

Even though I’ve read five books this month, I decided to focus on just two of them, both set in Maine but very different. That way, I could go into a little more detail about each book. For future What’s on Your Bookshelf?, I will probably continue to focus on two or three books.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Confession time: Romance novels aren’t my thing. I don’t mind reading books that include a romance, but I usually want some larger plot to bind it all together. However, Evvie Drake Starts Over is indeed a romance novel, with the central story being the relationship between Evvie, a young widow, and Dean, a baseball pitcher who can no longer pitch.

I decided to read this novel because I’m an admirer of Linda Holmes, one of the hosts of the excellent podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. Despite not being a fan of romance books, I stayed up late to finish Evie Drake. Holmes makes us care about Evvie and her struggles with depression and anxiety as she deals with the her husband’s death and the memories of her unhappy marriage. Meanwhile, Dean is dealing with his own issues, and I cared about him, too. I wanted things to turn out well for Evvie and Dean. Do they? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.

One final note: This book is set in Calcasset, a fictitious Maine town. And—not to put too fine a point on it—Linda Holmes is “from away,” as we would say in Maine. Because of this there were a couple of missteps. Evvie calls her father Pop, and I’ve never heard any Mainer call his or her father Pop. Usually, it’s Dad. Also, I’ve never heard crickets sing in Maine in the spring. As far as I know, late summer is when they begin their sad, sweet songs. But these are small errors that most people wouldn’t catch, and overall Holmes did a fair job of portraying Maine, albeit from an outsider’s point of view.

We Were Not Spoiled: A Franco-American Memoir by Lucille Verreault Ledoux with Denis Ledoux

We Were Not Spoiled: A Franco-American Memoir is a quiet book about growing up in Maine from the 1920s, when Lucille Verreault Ledoux was born, to the 1950s, when she was a young adult with a family of her own. While nothing exciting happens—this is a chronicle of everyday life—I found it compelling nonetheless. Perhaps it’s because I’m Franco-American, too.

A quick note for readers unfamiliar with the Franco-American ethnic group. Between 1840 and 1930 nearly one million French Canadians came to the United States. The largest number of these  immigrants settled in New England. The immigrants worked in factories, in brickyards, in shipyards, and on farms. They formed French-speaking communities that were known as Little Canadas. Today in Maine, Franco-Americans comprise 25% of the state’s population.

In 1920, toward the end of the French Canadian migration, Ledoux’s parents settled in Lewiston, Maine’s Little Canada, where French was the common language. They were originally from Thetford Mines in Québec. Ledoux, born in Lewiston, was the eldest of twelve children. In We Were Not Spoiled, she describes how they were crammed into small apartments and homes where the children often slept three to a bed.

We Were Not Spoiled is not a nostalgic book about how magical life was in the old days. Instead, Ledoux writes frankly about the hard times she and her family endured and how poverty and class limited her opportunities. Her parents valued work over education, and Ledoux dropped out of school when she was sixteen, working at odd jobs to help support the family.

When Ledoux marries and begins her own family, she and her husband, Albert, who also dropped out of high school, vow to do everything they can to encourage their children to finish high school.

In addition to the hard times, Ledoux also writes about the good times—skating, playing with her friends, joining a Drill Team. She notes how despite the challenge of feeding fourteen people, nobody went hungry in her family. No small accomplishment when you have to feed that many people on a tight budget.

The book ends when Ledoux is thirty and is about to move out of Lewiston to nearby Lisbon Falls to begin a new life with her husband as a chicken farmer.

I was sorry to come to the end of this book, to not be able to read about Ledoux’s years in Lisbon Falls.

But then again, wanting to read more is the sign of a good book.









53 thoughts on “What’s on Your Bookshelf: March 18”

  1. As a writer, it terrifies me to make errors like the one you mentioned in your first review! I don’t want to be limited to setting a novel where I live, though, because even then, I might inadvertently make a similar error. Oh well, glad you enjoyed the books nevertheless!

    1. I know just what you mean! As a writer, I have made more than my fair share of embarrassing errors. But onward we go, learning, I hope. The errors do not in any way detract from the story. They jumped out at me because I am from Maine. I doubt they would bother readers who are not from Maine.

  2. I will pursue these books; thanks for telling us about them. I am a fan of memoirs and not a fan of romance novels, but do enjoy developing empathy for the main characters, as you describe. I did not know about the Franco-American phenomenon; now I’m fascinated!

    1. Thanks for stopping by. Unfortunately, despite being a sizable minority in Maine and New England, Franco-Americans are not well known. My generation of artists and creatives is trying to change that. For more about our history, you might want want to check out David Vermette’s excellent history “A Distinct Alien Race” and Rhea Cote Robbin’s memoir “Wednesday’s Child.”

      1. Oh, thanks! I enjoy pursuing themes. When I looked for “We Were Not Spoiled” through my local library, I had to turn to the InterLibrary Loan system I was tickled when I saw they would need to borrow it from a library in Maine. It might take a few minutes to get to Kansas!

    2. How nice that you’ve ordered the book through interlibrary loan. What I didn’t mention in my post and probably should have is that at the end of the book there are letters included from Lucille’s husband when he was in the Pacific during World War II. In those letters are an ethnic slur used commonly at the time. Just wanted to warn you.

      1. I appreciate the heads up; thanks! Sometimes it’s jarring to see that. It helps me remember what used to be the norm, and grateful that we are reticent at least in the written word to use ethnic slurs. My library could not get a library to lend it, and sent me two other sources to purchase it for $5.00. I now own a Kindle version of the book.

      2. Glad I warned you! Yes, so true about being grateful that we are more reticent about ethnic slurs. Also, thank you for taking such an interest in a quiet book about Maine Franco-Americans. I really do appreciate it.

  3. Both those books sound good! Like you I am not a fan of Romance books unless they are very well written with engaging characters.

  4. I read Evvie a year or so ago…I remember that I liked it but I’d have to go back and read my review to know ow much I liked it. I don’t remember if it worked out for Evvie and Dean either. LOL. The other book looks interesting. I wonder why she didn’t write another book about her life on the chicken farm. Probably no time, right?

    1. Lucille Ledoux was in her 90s when the book was published and died a couple of years after. Maybe her son, Denis, who helped her with the book, will publish a second volume. We can hope.

  5. Frivolous romantic stories are not really my cup of tea, yet a ‘good, meaty’ story with a romantic element is sometimes just what I need to read under certain circumstances.

  6. When I finish a mystery by Seicho Matsumoto, I’ll be picking off the shelf a biography of the “Goodnight, Moon” author, followed by a biography of Zora Neale Hurston.

  7. The memoir sounds interesting based on our similar heritage. The eldest girl in the photo could have been my mother, same 20s haircut! She was born in ’22, and would have been 100 in Feb. had she lived.

  8. Hi, Laurie – Thank you for joining us at What’s On Your Bookshelf. I love your idea of just sharing a couple of books each time. That really allows you to go into more detail — and to really give fellow readers a feel for the stories that you have chosen. Both sound like stories that I would very much like.

  9. Always a thought-provoking blog, Laurie. So, here’s a question for you: Each year in first grade, I would read “Miss Rumphius” to my students. It’s one of my all time favorite books for young people (and adults). For me, I imagine coastal Maine to be just like that, but have really only visited the popular coastal hot spots. Would you say that the Maine of Miss Rumphius ever existed, or is it totally romanticized?

    1. It’s been a while since I read “Miss Rumphius.” However, Barbara Cooney lived in mid-coast Maine for a lot of years, so she was very familiar with the coast. As I recall, Cooney caught the beauty of the coast in what can probably be described as a romanticized way. Because along with the beauty there were hardships and poverty. However nowadays, much of the coast has become so expensive and gentrified that the hardscrabble life might not be as predominate. Might have to go inland for that. Thanks for asking.

  10. The memoir is my kind of book, so I’ll look out for it, and her parents would have been struggling in the same way my parents were, albeit on the side of the world. My reading pile is rising!

    1. Yes, the struggle is similar all over the world. When you’re scrabbling just to get by, it’s hard to focus on anything else. I really love how intentional Lucille Ledoux was when she began her how family, how she wanted better for her children. As for that reading pile…how it totters! 😉

  11. I had no idea about the French Canadian element in Maine. Thanks for the education. As to crickets — aren’t they always a late summer/fall creature. Never heard them here in the Canadian prairies anytime but then. Bernie

    1. French Canadians are a huge element in Maine, but overlooked for too long. French artists and creatives are trying to change that. Yes, as far as I know, crickets are late summer/fall creatures. At last in Maine. And, in the Canadian prairies. Might be different where Linda Holmes comes from.

  12. I wasn’t aware of the Franco-American population in New England…are there any formal cultural links with Quebec? And does this mean French language and history get more attention in schools in Maine / New England than in other parts of the US?

    1. There are cultural links, but we Francos have an uneasy relationship with Quebec. They tend to view us as rats jumping the ship. And, no, French language and history doesn’t get more attention in schools in Maine and New England. In fact, it gets zero. At one point, speaking French at school was outlawed by the Maine legislature. Only “good” French in French classes was allowed. Not a happy history, I’m afraid. But things are better now. Unfortunately, the legislature succeeding in stamping French out of Maine, and my generation was the first to lose the language. Sad, when you think that French was my mother’s first language and she didn’t speak English until she went to school.

      1. Thank you for this fascinating insight into a hidden piece of history (well, hidden from me in far off England, anyway!). In my naivety I had assumed French-Canadian-ness (is that a word?) ended at the Canada/US border, and didn’t make a re-appearance until way down south in the Cajun country of Louisiana. But on reflection it’s inevitable that people would have “leaked” across that border, and brought their own language and culture with them. It’s sad, but maybe not totally surprising, that – in the past – anglophone authorities in New England may have sought to protect what they perceived as their own cultural integrity by stamping down hard on the language etc of people they probably saw as Gallic interlopers.

        I also chuckled at your reference to “good French.” My own, very slight, contact with “Canadian” French was rather challenging. The accent was at all not what I’d encountered in my own lessons in French language (half a century ago!) and the words were spoken so very, very fast that I struggled to keep up. All of this, of course, probably tells you far more about my incompetent schoolboy French than it does about the French that is spoken in Canada today. 🙂

      2. You got that exactly right about the Yankees regarding French Canadians as Gallic interlopers. And yes, they certainly did seek to protect their cultural integrity. (A polite way of putting it.) I suspect that the difference between Canadian French and France French is much like the difference between American English and England English. Language changes as it moves around the world. Anyway, thanks for your thoughtful response.

  13. I’m not a romance reader either, Laurie, but I read them anyway and am often delighted when I find one that I can’t put down. Evvie Drake Starts Over sounds like one of those, and thanks for your thoughts on We Were Not Spoiled. Memoirs can be so captivating. Happy Reading.

  14. Thanks for the wonderful reviews and recommendations!! We Were Not Spoiled has been added to my list and Evvie Drake Starts Over was already on my want to read list and was quickly added to my library after reading this.

  15. It certainly is (in reference to your final sentence). I’m always very aggrieved when I get to the end of your books. In a good way of course!

  16. Just bought “We Were Not Spoiled” — thanks for the review. Will be interesting to compare it to what I know of the area I grew up in, northern New York, just 20 miles south of the Canadian border. Most people — me included — have family roots in Quebec from the same timeframe you described from the book. In a couple of the oldest towns near the Quebec border (Rouses Point and Champlain), people my age and their parents and grandparents still often alternate between French and English, especially at home.

    1. Oh, wonderful! So glad you bought the book. Lucille Ledoux is not a professional writer by any means, but I found her story so interesting. Well worth reading. I do want to warn you that at the end of the book, there are letters from her husband when he was stationed in the Pacific during World War II, and there are racial slurs in them. I probably should have mentioned it in my mini-review, but my focus was on Ledoux and her experience, which is the majority of the book. Also, I found your history very interesting. When we New England Francos get together, we are always reminded by writer David Vermette that there are other parts of the country that have Francos, too. New York, after all, borders on Quebec. Do you still speak French. My mother and grandmother did. Alas, except for some phrases, I do not. Also, even though the focus is on New England, you might want to check out David Vermette’s “A Distinct Alien Race,” where he chronicles the bigotry and discrimination New England Francos had to endure. In Maine, it was especially bad, but Vermont wasn’t too far behind.

      1. No one in my immediate family spoke French, at least that’s what I recall. It’s use was mostly limited to the towns I mentioned in my first comment, except for the very large number of visitors from Quebec to northern New York year round. I took a few French classes, enough to be lightly conversational when I worked at a hotel for five years or so and many of the guests were French speakers from the Montreal area. These days, I can struggle through it to read, or manage a French film (with some subtitle hints), but that’s about it.

        I’ll check out Vermette’s book too, thanks!

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