I'm not intentionally trying to drag this out but I haven't had a minute to pull together the story and photos of the wedding day. It was so wonderful and I want to do it justice.
In the meantime since I'm behind on the monthly book post I thought I'd get it up. I work on it as I go.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society takes place just after World War II. Did you know there are islands in the English Channel? I can’t say I’d ever thought about it one way or the other, but there are islands, including the island of Guersney, which was occupied by the Germans for five years. This novel is set a few years after the end of WWII and is told through letters, which sounds like a literary device that would get old but it didn’t.
This is ridiculous and I apologize in advance but I forget how brutal and ugly World War II was. I associate it with that Life magazine photo of the soldier kissing the nurse, the jubilation, the camaraderie, the patriotism.
When I read M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf, I was embarrassed that I hadn’t realized how hard it was on people at home and stunned to read about real live people right here in the U.S.of A. and how they had to struggle. Victory gardens sounded charming and fey, something fun to do to help the troops. Not so much. It’s what people back home did so they could eat, which was a feast, I’m sure, compared to what many of the soldiers were managing on.
One scene in the book talks about the character’s apartment being flattened in the bombings and I remember, all over again, you know, there were people, actual living breathing people whose homes were literally attacked. This very real war was fought on their soil, in their streets. (I was a history major for two years it’s not like I didn’t know this but to intellectually know it and to KNOW it KNOW it are two different things. Do you know what I mean?)
I know this sounds inane: War is bad ya’ll. It’s just real real bad.
History had always been my favorite subject: The Tigris and Euphrates, Spartas and Greeks, French and Indian War. While fascinating, it was hard to relate to it.
When we studied WWII, veterans spoke to our class. I listened open-mouthed to their stories. This man, standing right here in our classroom, he was at Iwo Jima. I can’t explain why this perplexed me and impressed me but it did. Still does.
I felt the same way the first time I went home and asked my mother about the Vietnam War. She’d lived through these things.
The letters in the book are written in 1946, just a few years before my mother was born. My father was about two years old at the time. In Europe people were trying to rebuild, to move on, to get past the horrors of war.
It makes sense to me now, after reading this, as it never has before, the full-on unbridled optimism of the 50s. I never got it before, patronizingly enjoying Donna Reed and June Cleaver and Andy Griffith. This is why people were so doggedly, determinedly happy. After what they’d been through, their brothers, their fathers, their husbands, after what they’d coped with at home for several dark and long years, no wonder.
It also explains to me, too, the disaffectedness between so many parents and children during the 1960s. Here fathers were damn grateful to be alive and back on American soil, proud of their mowed lawns, neighborhood barbecues, and American made cars, and their children were wearing long hair and burning the flag. Probably neither could fathom how on earth the other could feel the way they did.
Which explains with all the upheaval and unrest, how demoralizing and crippling it must have been to see icons – John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy – assassinated.
It amazes me and humbles me to think about how people deal with things like this, how they managed to make it through war time. These are our grandparents and great grandparents. It’s recent history. It’s amazing. I need to read The Greatest Generation.
The book is told in narrative form through letters so everything is very matter of fact, about having no salt and hiding pigs from the German soldiers and everything from horrors to inconveniences, and it’s chilling.
I finished this book a month ago and I’m still thinking about it.
From Publishers Weekly:
"The letters comprising this small charming novel begin in 1946, when single, 30-something author Juliet Ashton (nom de plume Izzy Bickerstaff) writes to her publisher to say she is tired of covering the sunny side of war and its aftermath. When Guernsey farmer Dawsey Adams finds Juliet's name in a used book and invites articulate—and not-so-articulate—neighbors to write Juliet with their stories, the book's epistolary circle widens, putting Juliet back in the path of war stories. The occasionally contrived letters jump from incident to incident—including the formation of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society while Guernsey was under German occupation—and person to person in a manner that feels disjointed. But Juliet's quips are so clever, the Guernsey inhabitants so enchanting and the small acts of heroism so vivid and moving that one forgives the authors (Shaffer died earlier this year) for not being able to settle on a single person or plot. Juliet finds in the letters not just inspiration for her next work, but also for her life—as will readers."
I also really liked this quote from Bookmarks Magazine: “Traditional without seeming stale, and romantic without being naïve” (San Francisco Chronicle), this epistolary novel, based on Mary Ann Shaffer’s painstaking, lifelong research, is a homage to booklovers and a nostalgic portrayal of an era…it is the tragic stories of life under Nazi occupation that animate the novel and give it its urgency; furthermore, the novel explores the darker side of human nature without becoming maudlin. The Rocky Mountain News criticized the novel’s lighthearted tone and characterizations, but most critics agreed that, with its humor and optimism, Guernsey “affirms the power of books to nourish people during hard times” (Washington Post).
After living in Guernsey, which is what that last book felt like (which is a compliment, I mean – the characters, the setting – it was all very real) escapist fiction was in order. Hello, Greg Iles. Dead Sleep fit the bill.
"Greg Iles lives up to the promise of his previous bestseller, 24 Hours, with a new thriller that showcases his ability to deliver top-level suspense as well as multidimensional characterization. When Jordan Glass, a world-renowned photojournalist, happens on an exhibit of a series of paintings known as "The Sleeping Women," she is stunned to discover that one of the models--a nude who, like the other women in the paintings, looks dead rather than asleep--is her mirror image. But Jordan knows the face in the painting isn't her; it's her twin sister, Jane, who disappeared from her New Orleans home more than a year ago... None of the bodies of the missing women have turned up, but their faces match the models in the other Sleeping Women paintings.
This is a taut, well-crafted thriller with a nice secondary love story that's woven into the action without slowing it down. Jordan is a fascinating, many-sided character who's a little too tough to be wholly believable, but that's a minor quibble. While winning well-deserved new fans for Iles, Dead Sleep will keep his readers awake until the very last page." --Jane Adams
I’m a broken record with my pithy, spot on analysis, but this is a page turner in the Greg Iles tradition. The ending stretches credulity, I’ll tell you that right away, but don’t most of them? Isn’t that the fun of it?
Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr
From Amazon reviews:
"This is the story of an anglo married couple, Richard and Sara Everton, who, in a burst of idealism, move from San Francisco to an old family home and abandoned mine in Mexico. Why, in the face of vociferous objections and concern from all their friends, would they move to a house they know has no electricity or water and aren't even sure is still standing? Richard and Sara go "in order to extend the family's Mexican history and patch the present onto the past. To find out if there was still copper underground and how much of the rest of it was true, the width of sky, the depth of stars, the air like new wine, the harsh noons and long, slow dusks. To weave chance and hope into a fabric that would clothe them as long as they lived." Their years as Ibarra's only foreigners - Richard's work, his illness, Sara's work, her care of Richard, their neighbors and friends, the constantly surprising landscape, the stones - is a story told with affectionate and patient wisdom. Perhaps it is a story a long time coming: Harriet Doerr got her BA at age sixty-seven and published this (her first) book a year later."
The reviews – 24 of them – at Amazon are fascinating. They can likely give you a better feel for the book than what I’m about to say, which is I liked this book. It was a quiet book and it snuck up on me. I didn’t really feel I was getting into it yet I kept thinking about the town and the characters.
The setting was a bit off-putting but that is purely personal. I know there are people who do and people who would but I cannot feature moving to a small rural town in Mexico. It’s hot there, very hot, and dusty and dry and those features aren’t my favorite.
The Company Car by C.J. Hribal
Here’s something I learned about myself midway through The Company Car: I am interested in this time period. I enjoy books set mid century. Without trying, I put my parents in various scenarios, imagining them as children, as teens, as newlyweds. The 50s and 60s seem so pivotal, so essential and reading a book set in its midst, with people going about their every day lives, most not realizing how pivotal the events around them will prove to be. It’s probably the reason I liked Paper Wings , that I read in November, the way I did.
The book seemed to drag. There was a lot of exposition. A lot. When I finished it, I didn’t think about the characters anymore.
From Publishers Weekly:
"Two generations of the Czabeks—Wally, Susan and their seven kids—make for a nuanced study of the American family and the mysteries of marriage in this dense, heartfelt saga...takes readers on a 50-year quest for the American dream, from a goofy televised postwar marriage ceremony through the Czabeks' flight in the 1960s from suburban Chicago to a 99-acre Wisconsin farm ("We had gone bucolic by the time the decade really exploded") to a 50th-anniversary gathering that serves as a crucible for decades of accumulated family conflict. The Czabeks persevere through one misadventure after another; Wally...drowns his demons in drink while each family member seeks his or her own private ways to cope with life's contradictions. Hribal chronicles the lives of this sprawling, chaotic cast of characters with a level of minutiae that tends to lessen the narrative's sense of urgency, but he courageously doesn't stint in his efforts to answer the big questions he poses, even though we may have guessed some of the answers ourselves."
Just Breathe by Susan Wiggs – Our heroine is a cartoonist whose husband has just battled a bout with cancer. They are young, newlyweds, and eager to start a family. After trying without success, they go to fertility treatments. After going to an appointment by herself, she decides to pick up a pizza for her husband. She doesn’t order the toppings she really wants; she’s a martyr that way and the author makes sure you know it. She orders a soda for her husband and as much as she wants a drink, like as much as she wanted olives on that pizza, she doesn’t allow herself. Of course she walks in on him having sex with another woman.
She leaves him, buys a Mini Cooper and goes home, which is a small town in California. Her dad still lives there, as do her grandmother and great aunt.
In no short order, she feels tired, so tired all the time. Just so sleepy.
(Any takers on what this could possibly be a symptom of?)
A few pages later, she’s having the darndest cravings. Not for pickles and ice cream, exactly, but odd cravings.
(Anyone care to hazard a guess?)
It takes an emergency room visit after she faints and falls out walking home one spring afternoon for the big reveal: She’s pregnant.
That’s when I stopped reading. I may not be the brightest porch light bulb on the street but I don’t care to be insulted. Readers aren’t stupid. They’re actually pretty sharp and they don’t need a trail of obvious, glaring, intrusive hints to put things together.
It has a four-star rating on Amazon, though.
Last summer it seemed like I kept hearing about Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles everywhere I went. It sounded like a good enough read but I am cheap, I mean frugal, and can usually wait until a book comes out in paperback, which is what I did in this case when I picked up a copy. It's a good read, reminding me a bit of Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. The main character is marooned at Chicago's O'Hare airport and he begins writing a letter to American Airlines, requesting a refund. He was en route to his daughter's wedding and through the extended letter he tells his story. It's funny and sad and I recommend it.
I love it when this happens: I read a review about a book with an intriguing title. I remember nothing of the review but that the book sounded interesting and I added it to my To Be Read list. A few weeks later on the front tables at my local bookseller’s, there is the book.
It didn’t hurt that the cover is arresting, too. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is an old-school drawing room type mystery. Set in England in the 1950s, it features 11 year old girl sleuth, Flavia de Luce, who discovers a body in the cucumber patch one summer morning.
I really loved this book. I’m already looking forward to reading it again and when I read the afterward I was thrilled to learn this is the first in a series.
It was an Amazon Best Book of the Month for April, 2009.
It's the beginning of a lazy summer in 1950 at the sleepy English village of Bishop's Lacey. Up at the great house of Buckshaw, aspiring chemist Flavia de Luce passes the time tinkering in the laboratory she's inherited from her deceased mother and an eccentric great uncle. When Flavia discovers a murdered stranger in the cucumber patch outside her bedroom window early one morning, she decides to leave aside her flasks and Bunsen burners to solve the crime herself, much to the chagrin of the local authorities. But who can blame her? What else does an eleven-year-old science prodigy have to do when left to her own devices? With her widowed father and two older sisters far too preoccupied with their own pursuits and passions—stamp collecting, adventure novels, and boys respectively—Flavia takes off on her trusty bicycle Gladys to catch a murderer. In Alan Bradley's critically acclaimed debut mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, adult readers will be totally charmed by this fearless, funny, and unflappable kid sleuth. But don't be fooled: this carefully plotted detective novel (the first in a new series) features plenty of unexpected twists and turns and loads of tasty period detail. As the pages fly by, you'll be rooting for this curious combination of Harriet the Spy and Sherlock Holmes. Go ahead, take a bite. -- Lauren Nemroff
Favorite Book of the Month: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is second.
Character Who I’d Most Like to Have a Drink With: Juliet Ashton, the author from Guernsey Literary Society who begins researching the islanders and falls in love with them and the locale. She was a riot.