World War II
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.
World War II
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.
*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?
*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.
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.
*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.
*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.
*Death of a Charming Man by M.C. Beaton. First published in 1994, this is Beaton’s 10th Hamish Macbeth mystery. The story centers around the effect of English newcomer, Peter Hynd on the small village of Drim in northern Scotland. Peter has a malicious streak and it becomes his downfall. Lochdubh police sergeant Macbeth warns Hynd to tread easily around the local Highlanders, but of course, he’s heedless.
The Hamish Macbeth series are cozy mysteries, though not quite as cozy as Agatha Christie’s books. Whose are? Grotesque descriptions are rare, along with bad language and sexual content. That being said, there was one section with a very un-cozy word.
Possibly it’s my imagination, but it seems that Beaton gets a little bored with the romantic relationship between Hamish and Priscilla Halburton-Smythe. Priscilla is not a sympathetic character; actually she’s fairly off-putting. Am I supposed to like her?
Hamish on the other hand, is someone I’d love to have as my local constable, despite his failings (mooching, laziness and all too often, a lack of loyalty).
Are there really policemen like him somewhere?
*Death in the Downs by Simon Brett
What’s the deal with so many current books? No happy marriages, affairs galore, no traditional religion, endorsements of New Age silliness.
Technically, this one is well written. The story moves along, clues are injected along with red herrings, it’s interesting and it ties up most of the loose ends.
On the other hand, it’s full of excessive drinking, mysticism and bad men. There is only one good/sympathetic man in the whole book.
I suppose Simon Brett really is a man, but he writes like a world-weary, jilted feminist who never met an alternative religion that he/she didn’t like.
It’s been a few years since I last read a Simon Brett mystery. The cynicism surprised me.
There are virtually no happy marriages in this book. Carole’s husband left her, one woman with an overbearing husband uses tranquilizers, another wife drinks, one couple is uncommunicative and then they part, and the “doctor” is a serial philanderer. Jude is not married but has an unpleasant relationship with her paramour, which we are thankfully spared the details. Parent/child relationships don’t fare much better.
And speaking of drinking … that’s practically all these characters do, besides intimidate, murder and commit mayhem and masochism. They are constantly drinking, not just at the pub but opening the second bottle of wine, etc.
New Age therapies are repeatedly defended- no matter how bizarre. At the end, we are treated to a discourse on the emptiness of traditional religion by the killer.
The writing is adept, the content leaves something to be desired. Come to think of it, Simon Brett seems more jaded than cynical. Perhaps he thinks he’s post-modern. Maybe he writes because his New Age healer prescribes it.
*Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie. Years ago, Joe and I saw the movie with Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power, an excellent production. Since I’m always on the lookout for copies of Agatha Christie books, I bought a paperback copy and read it last week.
The first chapter told the whole story of the movie, so I thought there had been some Hollywood interference with the original and that there must be a lot more that had been pared down. The second chapter had a whole new cast of characters, but many books do that – using the first several chapters to introduce new settings, etc… By the beginning of the 3rd chapter, I realized that it was a book of short stories! I looked at the front and back covers and the flyleaf and nowhere did it say it was a book of short stories, so I felt a little less foolish.
The second odd thing about the book, was that the day I finished it, I watched a movie on Hulu titled “Love From a Stranger”. As it went on, I thought that it seemed very familiar. When the wife read the notation in her husband’s diary “9:00 p.m.”, I knew! It was the same story as “Philomel Cottage”, chapter 8 in Witness for the Prosecution. I checked the imdb page for the movie to see if they acknowledged Christie’s original story and indeed they did.
Now, it may seem that I was pretty stupid not to connect it before but lots of details had been changed. Christie wrote the book in 1924 and I think the tales are contemporary to that time; the movie is set in 1901. In the book the husband claims to be a photographer; in the movie he’s a scientist. Her sudden influx of money is explained by an inheritance in the book, and the film has her winning the pools (lottery). And there are many other things expanding the original story – so it wasn’t a clearcut case of simply not paying attention on my part.
I thought all that it was kind of a quirky co-incidence and it has absolutely no significance. Just an interesting interlude.
*Possessed: the Life of Joan Crawford, by Donald Spoto I can’t look or think of Joan Crawford without thinking Mommy Dearest, so when I saw this on the New Books shelf at the library I hesitated. But I was willing to consider that maybe that was a distorted view of her when I saw that Spoto claimed that she was misunderstood and had new archival information. Perhaps Christina was merely bitter after having been left out of the will.
But I will never know because I can’t get past the alternative lifestyle agenda of the author. He takes every opportunity to campaign for it and it’s tiring.
Hollywood history has long fascinated me, but I’ll have to satisfy my curiosity elsewhere.
Unfinished and NOT RECOMMENDED
The Blue Sapphire by D.E. Stevenson This was a re-read for me. Back in the mid-197s, Wal-Mart carried a lot of D.E. Stevenson reprints with new artwork on the covers and I bought several of them. The Blue Sapphire was originally published in 1963 but the cover on my book is straight out of the 1970s: her ruffled, loose dress, wedge sandals and long, flowing curls; his open necked shirt with the big collar and styled hair. When I read a book, I really like to picture the time setting in my mind – and the early 60s were not like the 70s, in any fashion.
Therefore, I see this as an opportunity to do an altered bookjacket.
The Blue Sapphire is a cozy romance and a quick read. It’s pleasant with likable characters, although I must say that I found Julie ( the female protagonist) a bit stuffy at times. Perhaps that makes it more believable.
(Dorothy Emily Peploe’s father was Robert Louis Stevenson’s cousin; she used her maiden name when she wrote, but the copyright is in her married name.)
*Tides by V.M. Caldwell (Juvenile Fiction) The sequel to The Ocean Within targets 5th – 9th grade readers. It’s the continuing story of 12 year old Elizabeth who was adopted into the Sheridan family one year previously. All the Sheridan grandchildren spend each summer at their grandmother’s house on the ocean. Which ocean? We don’t know, but the clues are: the kids spot Vermont license tags on the journey there; it’s not Maine and there are pine trees right up to the beach. That’s a minor issue. However, the author doesn’t tell us why Elizabeth is afraid of the water, which is the main issue in the book. At the end, we are left to kind of …well… guess.
The writing is well crafted and held my interest. The subject matter is enjoyable – a house full of cousins, summertime, the beach, a town with a movie theater that shows W.C. Fields films. This is fun stuff to me. But the dark cloud is the intrusion of social issues – Elizabeth aids an environmentalist who’s trying to catch polluters.
Tides is a publication of Milkweed Editions, which is a non-profit publisher who “publishes with the intention of making a humane impact on society, in the belief that literature is a transformative art uniquely able to convey the essential experiences of the human heart and spirit”, according their note at the back of the book. At least they are upfront and bold in stating their goal.
My beef is that 10 year olds don’t need the weight of the world on their shoulders and how dare authors and publishers try to rob them of their childhood.
What they didn’t mind was inserting some gaia earth worship and a brief little ceremony for “mother ocean”. Perhaps they think they’re being ecumenical because they also devote very short passages to Judaism, Catholicism, as well as mentioning Hinduism, Buddhism and agnosticism. Talk about all-inclusive.
One very surprising element was the subject of spanking. Grandmother spanks. Everyone agrees that she’s fair about it, and there’s the agnostic mother’s disapproval of it, but I thought it was unusual aspect of a modern novel.
NOT RECOMMENDED for children.
The beach/family vacation storyline was much better done in The Secret of Cross Bone Hill by Wilson Gage.
*Theater Shoes by Noel Streatfield (Juvenile Fiction) It was in the movie “You’ve Got Mail” that I first heard of the Shoe books. I didn’t know if they were real books, or just something fictionalized for that story. When I did an internet search (remember this was about 1998) the cupboard was bare.
Then when I looking over the Books for a Donation area at the library – there it was – Theater Shoes! I added it to my stack of purchases, brought it home and read it right away.
It’s a delightful episode in the continuing story of a Dancing/Theater school in London. This go-round was written in 1945 and concerns 3 children whose guardian grandfather dies. Since their mother is deceased and their father is missing in action with the British army, they have nowhere else to go but to a grandmother they’ve never met. Unbeknownst to them, their maternal relatives are all theater people and they are enrolled in Madame Fidolia’s Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, which to them is like falling down the rabbit hole.
This passage from`Chapter 14 describes how the war had changed the appearance of a first night theater audience: “The audience was exactly as Miriam had said it would be, and not a bit as Alice had described it. The women were in uniform or dark overcoats, and most of them had big boots with fur linings. The men were in uniform or exactly as they had come on from work. Nobody was dressed up. Aunt Lindsey was looking very nice in a black frock and fur coat, but only nice in the way that anybody might look in the afternoon.”
Even though it’s written for older children, Theater Shoes is a charming book which held my interest.
*Night by Elie Wiesel This is a tough book to read, which I knew going in. It is the story of Wiesel and his Jewish family in the early days of World War II, their deportation to Auschwitz, then Buchenwald. At first there is his father, mother and sister. The mother and sister are separated from them, then his father is gone.
It’s the story of the price of survival.
It is a horrible and cruel book. One that we need to read every time we’re told that Israel is expendable.
The Gentile world turned it’s collective back on the Jews. They have no other place to go but Israel.
God bless his chosen people and the land He gave them.
RECOMMENDED for the strong
Anything Can Happen, George Papashvily and Helen Papashvily
Published in 1945, this is the true story of a Russian (actually Georgian) immigrant’s first years in America. This autobiography begins not at his beginning (he really doesn’t tell a lot about his life beforehand) but at the beginning of his life as an American.
We see our land and culture with a fresh view and learn the personal experience of one who was a 20th century addition to the Melting Pot.
Most of the book is uplifting and humorous, but we also learn what it’s like for a person to go 2 years without hearing anyone else speak his native language. Happily, he does discover others who speak Georgian and they form a very socialable group.
This is a very upbeat and charming book. If for no other reason, I recommend it to read about how he melted a battery to adjust bolt sizes on a wheel when he was stranded on a trip to California. Ingenious!
Here is the link to reader’s reviews of it on Amazon. This is one of the few books I’ve ever seen listed where all of the contributors gave it high marks: 4) 5 star reviews and 1) 4 star.
Death of a Dentist, M.C. Beaton
This was the 13th volume in the Hamish McBeth series. Beaton has written Hamish’s character as a bit more likeable than Agatha Raisin, so I enjoy reading these stories about the Scottish Highland constable a bit more. All the regular players are included: the doctor and his wife (the cat lover and poor housekeeper), Archie McDonald ( the fisherman whose wife is such an excellent housekeeper than she boils his suits), the twin spinster sisters, the honorable vicar’s wife, the fake ‘seer’, and so on.
As most of us know, authors and screenwriters inject their own viewpoints into their work. Apparently, at least some of Beaton’s viewpoints are conservative because she gets in an occasional dig at what she calls the “nanny state” of the U.K.
From chapter 2:
“There had once been a lot of industry back in the fifties, paper mills, brick works, electronics factories, and the tower blocks had been thrown up to house the influx of workers from cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh. But the workers had brought their love of strikes north with them and gradually the following generations had preferred to live on the dole and not even pretend to work. Factories had closed down and the winds of Sutherland whipped through their shattered windows and fireweed grew in vacant lots. It was like one of those science-fiction movies about the twenty-first century where anarchy
rules and gangs roam the streets. The last industry to go was the fishing industry, killed off by the European Union with its stringent fishing quotas and restrictions which onl the British seemed to obey …”
If that quote gives the impression that her books are preachy, then I’ve described them poorly, because they are not preachy. They are fun with a little common sense thrown in occasionally. Liberal writers do it all the time; in fact, often their books are centered around their viewpoints. Beaton just throws hers in once in a while.
A very entertaining read.
There Goes the Bride, M.C. Beaton
Published in 2009, There Goes the Bride is the latest Agatha Raisin mystery. It opens at the scene of her ex-husband’s marriage to his new bride and of course, Agatha’s jealousy of youth and beauty. This and how she deals with it, is a running theme throughout the book
I suppose that part of Agatha Raisin’s charm is that she is only somewhat predictable, except where men are concerned.
Not quite as well written as some of her other books, it’s still an pleasant diversion and much better than watching poorly written television programs (which I’ve done a lot of in my life).
How wonderful to discover a new (to me) author that is so gratifying and soothing to read. I’ve been around books and libraries for a long time, and even read about them so I assumed that I was familiar with most of the authors in my favorite genres. Brenda over at Coffee, Tea, Books and Me introduced Elizabeth Goudge to us, her blog readers, and I’m so happy that she did.
The Scent of Water is set in a small English village sometime after World War II. A middle aged woman has inherited a cottage from a mostly unfamiliar cousin and decides to relocate there instead of selling it.
This is the England that many of us long for but I couldn’t find when I was there and is probably gone ( Close knit villagers, local characters, shabby cottages (no electricity), domestic help and antique treasures to discover.
However cozy and pleasant the general theme, the author deals with some very serious subjects: war wounds, making a new life, the destructive and seductive nature of bitterness, grown children who go bad, and honor. The running theme of a relationship with God is beautifully presented.
It was very poetic in places and occasionally some of the meaning was lost on me, as I am not a poetic person. However, that said, I was so pleased with it that I immediately ordered two more of her books (Pilgrim Inn and Green Dolphin Street), which await me when I finish reading my current book.
Highly recommended, especially if you like Miss Read.
Published in 1963, this is a wonderful non-fiction companion to the Hamish McBeth novels by M.C. Beaton. It’s the account of an English schoolteacher who retires to an island in the Hebrides (island off the northwestern coast of Scotland). Her goal is to become a crofter.
Croft, n. Small piece of arable land close to house; ; crofter’s holding. crofter, n., joint tenant of divided farm in parts of Scotland.
(One of my best souvenirs from our time in Windsor was an old English dictionary. I’ve used it many times to look up words from British novels that don’t appear in our American ones.)
Miss Beckwith shares her experiences with the locals as she tries to understand them and become part of their community.
Although M.C. Beaton lived in Scotland, I think she must’ve read this book, too; it’s a great companion book to her Hamish McBeth series.
A clever little volume for cat lovers, this is a short read (probably 15 minutes).
Cute illustrations accompany such bon mots as:
“Do not forget that your claws are not only a defensive weapon but also a remarkable decorating device that can perform miracles on humdrum upholstery as well as knit garments.”
“Should you make a faux pas, always act as if your action was deliberate and intentional.”
Makes me think the author (Susan Waggoner) had a camera inside my home watching our own feline companions.
Highly recommended for those who love cats. Makes a good gift.
Previous Review Timeless Treasures by Emilie Barnes
Dancing with Rose by Lauren Kessler
After her mother died of Alzheimer’s, Lauren Kessler took her guilt (years of ignoring her mother) and her journalism and went to work in an Alzheimer’s facility as an aide. Her goal was to learn more about the disease and get first hand experience with patients, then write about it. The resulting book is fascinating and easily readable, but troubling. Troubling not simply because it’s a tough subject and was a very tough job (she has my admiration for being willing to tackle the unpleasant physical labor).
Whether intentionally or not, she comes across as a voice of authority on approach to the disease, family vs. caregivers and the personality changes. Kessler stops just short of saying that who these people have become is really who they always were. She seems to catch before herself saying that these are people in their purest form, without all the restrictions that we put on ourselves to live in society. To me this is a ridiculous, silly and empty-headed view of Alzheimer’s. It is obviously a left-over philosophy from her hippie days. In fact, she says that she and her husband joke about nursing homes of the future: hash brownies and Black Sabbath music.
Which brings me to my biggest complaint about this book: the hidden buddhism. She doesn’t openly name her philosophy until nearly the end of the book, which I consider a cheat. Early in the book, and even without knowing her religion, I saw a pattern developing that bothered me. A more honest approach would’ve been to state it up front.
This was the second book on Alzheimer’s that I checked out from the Grapevine Library that took a buddhist approach to the disease and caregiving. The first book I didn’t even bother to read. If she had been more forthcoming , I wouldn’t have wasted my time on this one, either.
Because the other reason I resent her and her book, is that I wrongly took to heart something she said about a family member who was calling on the phone to talk to their parent. She wrote that she believed that they did it more for themselves than for the patient and that the patient would’ve been better off if they hadn’t called. I don’t know if she meant this as a general rule for everyone, but I took it to heart. We live in another state and can only get up to see my mother about every 3 weeks, so I call her on the phone in between times. With only one exception, she seems to enjoy the calls. But there was once when she was agitated and I thought maybe Kessler was right and I shouldn’t call; that it was making Mama unhappier. So, for several days I didn’t. Then I decided to call and talk to the nursing staff and get their opinion because they deal with her afterwards. I asked if she seemed worse after the phone conversations, more unsettled. Each one of them said that she enjoyed them and they considered that it was better for my mother if I did call. Then I felt like a lousy daughter for having taken Kessler’s advice. I don’t even know if she meant it generally, but that’s how I took it. She sure seems to think she’s one of the experts after her experiences.
Published in 2008, this is the 19th Agatha Raisin mystery by M.C. Beaton. Publisher’s Weekly referred to it as ‘saucy’, which I found perplexing. Surely I’m not more liberal than Publisher’s Weekly! Obviously that’s not so, therefore I really don’t know what they meant. There’s no hard language, descriptive sex or gruesome details.
Cozy mysteries are my favorites and I certainly think that M.C. Beaton is probably the best at this genre, after Agatha Christie. Of course, Christie was the best by far, but both the Agatha Raisin and the Hamish MacBeth stories and light, diverting and easy reads. One of the things I appreciate most about her books is the unexpected humor.
Sooner Cinema – Oklahoma Goes to the Movies, Edited by Larry A. Van Meter
Being a native Oklahoman and a movie buff, I was very interested in reading this book. Van Meter is the editor, rather than the author, because the book is a compilation of 19 chapters by different writers, each focusing on either a film which was set in Oklahoma, or someone who was a native (i.e. Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory).
To be expected some of the chapters are better than others, but one that I found absolutely outrageous was the one by David Charlson called “Oklahoma Values in One Hour or Less: Gary Rhodes’ Banned in Oklahoma and Bradley Beesley’s Okie Noodling” .
Charlson is an instructor in English and Documentary Film at Oklahoma City Community College, which is really a shame. He is not a native and has nothing but disdain for the conservative atmosphere in the state. He is appalled that John McCain carried every single county in Oklahoma in the 2008 election (the only state in which this was true). He punishes conservative students who won’t watch one of his assigned films by giving them another choice: gruesomeness instead of child pornography.
Other chapters are about Cimmarron, True Grit, Silkwood,The Outsiders, Far and Away, Oklahoma Crude and The Grapes of Wrath, among others. The rest of the book is interesting, but Charlson’s chapter is so snide and irksome, it was a waste of time and money.
Handmade Home – Simple Ways to Repurpose Old Materials into New Family Treasures by Amanda Blake Soule
Speaking of a waste of money brings me to Amanda Soule’s book. I bought this one while traveling home from Oklahoma and we stopped at a book store to stretch our legs. I should’ve known better than to stretch them in a book store because books are my biggest weakness. I usually buy used ones. Rarely do I pay full price and I have kicked myself repeatedly for doing it this time.
It is craft book, a sewing book, which is what I wanted. What I did not want was a new age/green/hippie book. But that’s what I got.
In the store, I briefly looked at the introduction (she talks about the family history of practicality, which I appreciate) and some of the projects like pot holders, wall pockets, and computer mouse pads. What I didn’t see until I got home was the publisher’s leaflet advertising their zen/new age books on family. Had I seen this, it would’ve been the Red Warning Flag: Carla, you will hate this book. And I do. I don’t even like the smell of it. They probably used strange ink.
Sewing books should be just that. I’m not interested in her personal beliefs. I don’t believe that I should have to carefully look through a SEWING book to see if I’m going to be offended. As I was for the “Women’s Cloth”. Gross. Just plain gross. Besides which Soule doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She wrongly opines “Disposable menstrual pads have become the norm only in the past 30 years or so …” (emphasis mine). I am almost 50 years old and disposables have been the norm and around a lot longer than me. How do I know? Because one of the things I collect is old magazines. Frankly I was surprised that these products and some of the ones I considered more modern were available as far back as they were.
So, there were happy experiences with books in October, and some which set my teeth on edge. And I didn’t even list the ones I started and gave up on.
My November reading is off to a good start. Kind of gets some of the bad taste out of my mouth.