Category Archives: Battle of Britain

Books Read, September & October 2011

NON-FICTION

World War II

A Summer Interrupted – 1939, The Remarkable Story of An Evacuee/G. Michael Burns, 2011

FICTION

Mysteries
Death of a Chimney Sweep/M.C. Beaton, 2011. Latest in the series about the village constable, Hamish McBeth.

Death of a Dreamer/M.C. Beaton, 2006. Twists and turns as Scottish constable Hamish McBeth solves the murder of Effie Garrand, an Englishwoman very proud of her art and her daydreams.

Murder in Three Acts/Agatha Christie (1935) – also published as Three Act Tragedy. Who killed the kindly vicar and why? Noted actor, Sir Charles Cartwright and his two friends endeavor to solve the mystery.

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Filed under Battle of Britain, Books, England, Fiction, History, World War II

Books Read, February 2011

Non-Fiction
*Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder (2009). This is the story of Deogratias, a Burundi refugee to the United States. Geography is not one of my strong suits, and I began reading this book not even knowing what continent Burundi was on. Rawanda and Burundi were both part of the Belgian Congo and have had similar … what? Struggles doesn’t even begin to describe the horror of the genocide.

Deo arrived at JFK with $200 and no contacts and no support system in 1994. He didn’t even speak English. A few years later he had graduated from Columbia University and enrolled in medical school at Dartmouth. By 2008, his lifelong dream of a medical clinic in his African village was realized.

Kidder won a Pulitzer Prize for Strength in What Remains, and deservedly so. It was hard to put down, but that’s exactly what I should’ve done hours before bedtime, because I couldn’t get to sleep until 4:00 a.m. Descriptions of the violence are graphic. If this sort of thing bothers you (it does me), you can skip over those passages when you see them coming.

Even so, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND it.

Fiction – Mystery

*Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie (1936). Vastly superior to the film version with David Suchet, this is the story of a crime committed in the presence of 3 other people, but who saw nothing. Or did they?
RECOMMENDED

*Death of a Macho Man by M.C. Beaton (1996). A mysterious swarthy newcomer to Lochdubh has been done in and Highland police constable Hamish MacBeth solves the crime.
ENTERTAINING

*Death of a Scriptwriter by M.C. Beaton (1998). Narcissism in television personalities, supporting staff and mystery writers are featured in this Hamish MacBeth volume. Miss Beaton writes with clarity and humorous insight about people who think a lot of themselves.
ENTERTAINING

Fiction – Juvenile

*When the Sirens Wailed by Noel Streatfeild (1974). While this book shares a common theme with the Shoe books (children who are separated from their parents), it’s a bit harder hitting and tells the story of World War II from a child’s viewpoint, i.e. the evacuation of London’s children to the countryside, the Blitz and the blackout. One of the things that surprises me about this book is it’s classification as juvenile fiction. It sits on the library shelf with lighter tomes such as the American Girl series. The American Girl series are lovely, interesting books, but geared to a younger audience. Many adult books are not as well-written as When the Sirens Wailed.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

*Party Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (1944). Also published as Party Frock. Streatfeild’s love of theater comes through in this story of a large family of children and their cousin during World War II. The cousin has been sent a party dress and shoes by an American godmother but under the bleak social conditions caused by the war, she won’t have an opportunity to wear it. So they brainstorm a suitable event and plan a historical festival with each child focusing on a different era. It reminds me of the Andy Hardy idea of “let’s put on a show!” and just reading it made me want to put one on, too. The problems of production are very true-to-life, including the director’s arrogance, prima donas, costuming, blocking and lots more. If you love theater, this is a fun book, even for adults.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

*Clues in the Shadows: a Molly Mystery by Kathleen Ernst (2009). War weariness on the homefront during World War II is the focus in this later edition in the American Girl series. Molly and her friends participate in a scrap drive and learn about combat fatigue and how the absence of fathers caused reduced circumstances in many of families. Some tough issues are focused on and give an opportunity to discuss what our military families experience, even now.

Go here for historical background information and some good photos.
RECOMMENDED

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Filed under Battle of Britain, Books, Children's, Current Events, England, Fiction, History, World War II

Books Read, March – December 2010

During my recovery period last spring and summer, it was really difficult to get back to all kinds of normal activity which includes reading, regular blogging and almost everything else. For nearly a month after the surgery, I virtually didn’t read. And upon resuming, I didn’t keep good records about what I’d read and when.

But as I’m trying to catch up on a bit of blog-housekeeping, here goes.

Note: The categories are general, and entries are not alphabetized. Several entries have “In progress” noted. These I hope to finish. An “Unfinished” designation means that these are ones that I probably will never finish, usually because I didn’t care for them.

So, here’s the list from March – December, 2010, to the best of my memory ( as I recall others, I’ll add them on):

FICTION

Cozy
*Changes at Fairacre, Miss Read (reread)
*Farewell to Fairacre, Miss Read (reread)
*A Peaceful Retirement, Miss Read (reread)
*Mrs. Pringle, Miss Read (reread)
*Pilgrim’s Inn, Elizabeth Goudge
*The Scent of Water, Elizabeth Goudge
*Green Dolphin Street, Elizabeth Goudge (Unfinished)
*Julia’s Hope, Leisha Kelly (reread)

General Fiction
*Charlotte and Dr. James, Guy McCrone
*The Green Years, A.J. Cronin
*So Well Remembered, James Hilton

Mystery
*The Moving Finger, Agatha Christie (reread)
*The Cat Who Wasn’t a Dog, Marian Babson
*Agatha Raisin: There Goes the Bride, M.C. Beaton
*Death of a Gentle Lady, M.C. Beaton
*Death of a Valentine, M.C. Beaton
*The Case of the Daring Decoy, Erle Stanley Gardner
*The Case of the Queenly Contestant, Erle Stanley Gardner
*The Case of the Phantom Fortune, Erle Stanley Gardner
*The Case of the Troubled Trustee, Erle Stanley Gardner (reread)
*The Case of the Footloose Doll, Erle Stanley Gardner (reread)
*The Case of the Worried Waitress, Erle Stanley Gardner (reread)

Children’s/Youth Fiction
*The Secret of Crossbone Hill, Wilson Gage

NON-FICTION

Biography and Personal Reminiscences

*An American Family, Reid Buckley
*Living it up at National Review, Priscilla Buckley
*It Gives Me Great Pleasure, Emily Kimbrough
*All of a Kind Family, Sydney Taylor
*The Sea for Breakfast, Lillian Beckwith
*Out of the Air, Mary Margaret McBride
*Mostly in Clover, Harry J. Boyle

World War II
*The Raft, Robert Trumbull
*Homefront, Norman Longmate
*The Gathering Storm, Winston Churchill (In progress)

Faith
*Loving God, Charles Colson (In progress)
*God and Man at Yale, William F. Buckley, Jr. (In progress)
*Cup of Comfort Book of Prayer: Stories and reflections that bring you closer to God,James Stuart Bell and Susan B Townsend

General Non-Fiction
*Charlotte Mason Education, Catherine Levison
*The Long and Short of It – the Madcap History of the Skirt, Ali Basye and Leela Corman (Unfinished)
*Mary Jane’s Outpost, Mary Jane Butters
*A Kid’s Catalog of Israel, Chaya M. Burstein
*Women Who Make the World Worse, Kate O’Beirne (In progress)
*Girlfriends Forever, Mary Branch (Unfinished)
*Good Mail Day: A Primer for Making Eye-Popping Postal Art, Jennie Hinchcliff and Carolee Gilligan Wheeler
*Among Schoolchildren, Tracey Kidder
*The I Hate to Cook Book: 50th Anniversary Edition, by Peg Bracken and Johanna Bracken

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Mrs. Miniver, 1942

In the Anderson shelter

In the Anderson shelter

After the fall of France, England was struggling for survival under the relentless pounding by the Germans.  Tens of thousands of civilian lives and homes were lost. For over two years they alone fought the Nazis. Then we were attacked at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. America was immediately thrust into a two-front war, with very little preparation.  President Roosevelt had to choose where to concentrate our first efforts and he chose to stand with England while we rebuilt our decimated Navy.  Americans didn’t understand that decision because the Pacific was where we’d been attacked.  He felt it was vitally important to have the support of the American people in giving England much needed help.

This is the story of a family, of a little boy who takes his cat into the air raid shelter (of course, the cat looks calmer than anyone else), of the difficulty of a changing society, of romance. Of the importance of roses and those beloved cats. It is cozy, humorous and suspenseful. Most of all, it is the story of perseverance, courage and faith that sustains us in treacherous times.

Miniver home after a bombing raid

Miniver home after a bombing raid

Mrs. Miniver was used as the tool to illustrate to the American people just how rough the war had been on ordinary English citizens.  And it worked.  Winston Churchill was very pleased by the reaction to both the book and the movie.  He’s quoted by Bernard Wasserstein as saying that they did as much good as “six divisions of war effort”.

There’s been a lot of criticism of Mrs. Miniver for being war propaganda.  And I suppose it was, but still, it was accurate; actually maybe it wasn’t accurate enough.  William Wyler, the director, joined the U.S. Army after the filming was completed and was overseas when he won the Oscar. He later said that he had been too soft in his portrayal of war.  It seems hypocritical to me that modern critics ignore the blatant, agenda driven, anti-American bias in current films but point an accusing finger at patriotic movies.  The fight  was for the survival of the free world. And we should remember that it was made during the war. No one knew what the outcome would be but William Wyler was very clear about what we were fighting for.

A few of the reviews by the English complain about it being an unrealistic American view of them.  If anyone from the UK reads this, I’d appreciate a comment from them concerning inaccuracies.  I know it’s quite different from their modern culture, but things have changed.  How truthfully does it portray the 1940’s?  Also, the fake English accents have been  pointed out.  Well, yes.  I’m sure the British are sensitive about that.  I know that when I watch British productions like Fawlty Towers or Foyle’s War or Agatha Christie stories, I’m sensitive to not only how we are portrayed but also by the flat accents they employ when imitating us (they usually use British actors with fake American accents). Can you spot the Americans in Mrs. Miniver?  There are only 3 in the 15 credited roles; 11 are from the United Kingdom, (mostly England), and 1 from Vienna.  See * at bottom of page

Tea on the terrace

Tea on the terrace

I simply love this movie.

Sometimes after reading a story or watching a movie that I’ve really enjoyed, I want to know more about the story or the characters.  And often, whichever one I read or see afterward is disappointing.  But not Mrs. Miniver.

The movie is only based on the characters Jan Struther wrote about; originally the stories were printed in the Times (London), then compiled in novel form in 1939.  The book is simply a collection of vignettes about the Miniver family.  Almost no events are transferred from the book but still the book and the movie fit together hand in glove.  The screenwriters stayed very true to Struther’s tone and characters. More often than not, Hollywood has ruined original stories or at least twisted them out of all recognition.  But not here.  I feel that they took good material and improved it.  Jan Struther was not Kay Miniver; she might have been someone I wouldn’t have liked. After reading about her life, I can say I probably wouldn’t have.  But she was a good writer.

All of the actors are wonderful, especially … no, if I start naming all the good ones, I’d just end up listing the cast.

Wilcoxon Speech

Wilcoxon Speech

Some of the most memorable scenes:  reading Alice in Wonderland aloud to the children in the Anderson shelter, tea on the terrace, when Kay hears his boat returning after Dunkirk.  Possibly the very best is the last one: in the church Vin goes to stand beside Lady Beldon. And the vicar’s sermon.  Incredibly stirring.

From imdb “The vicar’s speech near the end was reportedly re-written by William Wyler and Henry Wilcoxon the night before it was shot. It was translated into various languages and air-dropped in leaflets over German-occupied territory, was broadcast over the Voice of America, and reprinted in Time and Look magazines at Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s request. This speech has come to be known as The Wilcoxon Speech, in tribute to actor Henry Wilcoxon’s stirring delivery of it.” The enemy was recognized and survival required resistance. The sermon reflects Winston Churchill’s embracing words. Here is a  short clip; this one is more complete.

Twelve Academy Award nominations, 6 wins.

Best Picture
Best Director – William Wyler
Best Actress – Greer Garson
Best Supporting Actress – Teresa Wright
Best Cinematography – Joseph Ruttenberg
Best Screenplay -George Froeschel, Claudine West, Arthur Wimperis & James Hilton (novels:  Random Harvest, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Lost Horizon)


Where I’ve Seen Them

Greer Garson – Good-bye , Mr. Chips, Pride and Prejudice
Walter Pidgeon – Meet Me in St. Louis, Forbidden Planet
Teresa Wright – Shadow of a Doubt, The Best Years of Our Lives
Dame May Whitty – The Lady Vanishes, White Cliffs of Dover, Suspicion
Richard Ney – Midnight Lace
Henry Wilcoxon – The Ten Commandments, The Big Valley
Reginald Owen – Mary Poppins (Admiral Boom)
Henry Travers – Dark Victory, Shadow of a Doubt, It’s a Wonderful Life
Brenda Forbes – Blithe Spirit
Helmut Dantine – Casablanca (the young newlywed who loses at gambling).  Although Austrian, he was really playing against type.  He had been involved in the resistance and was arrested.  His family  secured his release and sent him to the U.S.

Very highly recommended.

If your library doesn’t have a copy, you can watch it on youtube. There was a sequel, The Miniver Story, filmed in 1950 with both Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, but I’ve not seen it (That’s what I’m doing tomorrow). This link has foreign sub-titles. Perhaps you can find one that doesn’t. If I do, I’ll update this post.

Please check back if you’re interested in this subject. I plan on writing more about this compelling period of history.

*The Americans are Teresa Wright, Richard Ney and Christopher Severn.

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