Focus On: WWI & WWII

DowntonAbbey1

Ever since the latest season of Downton ended, I’ve been searching for something to fill the void. Though there’s nothing quite as funny as watching Maggie Smith talk about weekends, I found a few substitutes. It’s only natural that I turned first to historical fiction set in the 20s  before moving on to fiction set in the 40s.

I'll Be Seeing You

I'll Be Seeing You

First up is I’ll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan.

It’s January 1943 when Rita Vincenzo receives her first letter from Glory Whitehall. Glory is an effervescent young mother, impulsive and free as a bird. Rita is a sensible professor’s wife with a love of gardening and a generous, old soul. Glory comes from New England society; Rita lives in Iowa, trying to make ends meet. They have nothing in common except one powerful bond: the men they love are fighting in a war a world away from home.

Brought together by an unlikely twist of fate, Glory and Rita begin a remarkable correspondence. The friendship forged by their letters allows them to survive the loneliness and uncertainty of waiting on the home front, and gives them the courage to face the battles raging in their very own backyards. Connected across the country by the lifeline of the written word, each woman finds her life profoundly altered by the other’s unwavering support.

A collaboration of two authors whose own beautiful story mirrors that on the page, I’ll Be Seeing You is a deeply moving union of style and charm. Filled with unforgettable characters and grace, it is a timeless celebration of friendship and the strength and solidarity of women.

Summary from Amazon.com

This one is an absolute joy to read — it’s a mixture of nostalgia, romance and the power of friendship. Written as a series of letters between two women whose husbands have gone off to war, the novel show the intense impact the war had on those at home. Glory and Rita are endearing as women, mainly because the authors have allowed them to be imperfect. All too often in historical fiction women are shown as perfect wives and mothers, not so here! This book is guaranteed to make you pull out your stationary and write a letter to a friend!

Rating: 4/5

House-Bound by Winifred Peck

House-Bound

Next up is a book that I haven’t quite finished but am absolutely adoring, House-Bound by Winifred Peck.

Penelope Fitzgerald wrote: ‘If I could have back one of the many Winifred Peck titles I once possessed I would choose House-Bound. The story never moves out of middle-class Edinburgh; the satire on genteel living, though, is always kept in relation to the vast severance and waste of the war beyond. The book opens with a grand comic sweep as the ladies come empty-handed away from the registry office where they have learned that they can no longer be “suited” and in future will have to manage their own unmanageable homes. There are coal fires, kitchen ranges and intractable husbands; Rose is not quite sure whether you need soap to wash potatoes. Her struggle continues on several fronts, but not always in terms of comedy. To be house-bound is to be “tethered to a collection of all the extinct memories… with which they had grown up… how are we all to get out?” I remember it as a novel by a romantic who was as sharp as a needle, too sharp to deceive herself.’

Summary from Persephone Books.

House-Bound is  part of a delightful series of books published by Persephone Books. Persephone takes books written by women over the past 200 years and gives them new life. Often these are the books that have fallen out of print with time or, in the case of several of their books, were never printed at all. House-Bound is a lot of fun to read but certainly isn’t as action-packed as modern novels. It’s the perfect answer to what to read before bed.

Rating: Withheld as I’m not finished yet!

In case you’re looking for a quick fix, here are two television series I highly recommend that capture both the glamour and the scarcity of wartime. (Bonus: they’re both available on Netflix!)

  1. Land Girls: A fun mini-series about girls who have joined the Women’s Land Army in England. Though most of them are used to hard work, when an aristocratic girl who has never lifted a finger shows up hilarity ensues.Land Girls
  2. Bomb Girls : This series follows Canadian women who are employed in a munitions factory during the war. Tensions are high as pressure is put on the factory to produce more bombs.Bomb Girls

Abandoned!

There’s nothing I hate more than sitting down with a book and finding out that it’s just not right. For me this happens when I try to read something too deep on a rainy day or try to read a fluffy novel when I’m in a serious mood. Goldilocks, much? Most often, I pick the book up later that week and things are honky dory, but on rare occasions there’s just on helping the situation. Here are a few books that I abandoned recently and why

Bill and Hillary

Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal by William Chafe

Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal


I started reading this one at an internship and really loved it! Since I was so young during the Clinton years it was interesting to learn about the President’s background. I had no idea he was a Rhodes scholar! This one was so much fun until I got about half-way through. Around then, it became apparent that far more weight was being given to Bill’s life; understandable ten years ago but unacceptable now that she’s served as Secretary of State. The Children's Book

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt

The Children's Book

 

I tried so hard to get into this one! Byatt writes so beautifully and the story was so compelling. The biggest drawback for me was that I chose to listen to it through Audible. The book is just too long and too complicated for an audiobook. As soon as I can get my hands on a library copy I’ll try again and report back.

What have you read recently that you had to set aside?

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Note: Even though I abandoned these books, they may be really awesome! I’m not saying they aren’t perfectly lovely, just that they weren’t right for me at the time. 

Speed Reviewing: June 10

I read a lot if you hadn’t noticed! Sometimes I read things that I like but don’t think warrant a full review, but I feel bad for not giving them enough attention. Everyone needs some easy chick-lit now and again, right? Maybe that’s just me…

Without further ado, here are tiny reviews of some books that didn’t make it onto the blog.

Revenge Wears Prada

Revenge WearPrada by Lauren Weisenberger

Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns


Short Review: A fun read with many major fashion moments. It’s hard to imagine film cast (i.e. Anne Hathaway) in these new scenarios which unfortunately taints my view of this sequel. Method Read: ebook Rating: 3/5 sophie kinsella wedding night

Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

 

Wedding Night

 

Short Review: Great book for an evening in with a glass of wine!  The characters and story are adorable.
Method Read: library ebook
Rating: 3/5

Garment-of-Shadows

Garment of Shadows by Laurie King

Garment of Shadows (Mary Russell, #12)


Short Review: A great addition to the series, but would be confusing to read as a standalone piece. Unfortunately it’s also far too long for an audiobook. Method Read: audible audiobook Rating: 4/5 The River of No Return

The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

 

The River of No Return

 

Short Review: INCREDIBLE. AMAZING. Ridgway’s novel immediately reminded me of  A Discovery of Witches but still kept its own unique flair. Highly Recommended.
Method Read: galley
Rating: 4/5

Seduction

Seduction by M.J. Rose

Seduction

Short Review: Odd little book with too many plot twists.

Method Read: galley
Rating: 3/5

Focus On: Unlikeable Narrators

Have you ever read a book where you hate all of the characters? How about one where the narrator is so annoying you’re tempted to abandon the book entirely? Over the past two weeks I’ve stumbled across two books that fit this description. They suffer from what I’ll call “the Gone Girl effect.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love Gillian Flynn as much as the next girl. In fact probably more, since Sharp Objects is easily in my Top 5 Books I’ve Ever Read. Love for the author aside, Gone Girl irked me. There was no one to love and by the end I was so frustrated with all of the characters that I didn’t care how the mystery unraveled. However, this type of book seems to be an emerging genre of sorts and I thought I’d share some similar titles.

Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence

Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence by David Samuel Levinson

Antonia Lively waltzes into town with her much older boyfriend and turns everyone’s lives upside down. Rather than contenting herself with her debut novel, Antonia is on the look-out for a story to write. Under the guise of befriending the townsfolk, Antonia explores and exploits their secrets on the page.

As much as I wanted to love this one, especially since it features a small college town and an interesting group of writers, I just couldn’t get behind the idea of Antonia or the novel’s strange narration. However, it’s beautifully written and has so many redeeming qualities I’d recommend it to anyone who loved Gone Girl.

Rating: 3/5
Method Read: e-galley

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)


Every Contact Leaves a Trace

Every Contact Leaves a Trace by Elanor Dymott

I first picked this one up as I was browsing in The Purple Crow. Since I have a rule to never leave an independent bookstore without buying something, I paid the staggering hardcover price. Perhaps not a great idea. I had very high expectations for this book. At first glance, it appeared a lot like The Bellwether Revivals, a book that easily topped my favorites list from last year. Both were set at Oxbridge, both had mysteries that eluded the police. Unfortunately the similarities ended there. Every Contact Leaves a Trace is narrated by Alex, a widower whose wife has died under mysterious circumstances. Alex is fairly likeable but unfortunately isn’t developed enough for the reader to care about his grief, or the ensuing investigation. The book is worth a look if you want a murder mystery with British flair, but pick it up at your library and spare your wallet.

Rating: 3/5
Method Read: Hardback, purchased

Every Contact Leaves a Trace

 

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Book Review: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

ridingcamp

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls: A Novel
by Anton DiSclafani

Pub Date: June 4, 2013

Rating: 4/5

Lately I’ve been loving historical novels — Above All Things, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, The Bookman’s Tale. When The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls: A Novel showed up in my mailbox last week I knew I had to put it at the top of my pile. Luckily it didn’t disappoint.

Thea Alwell is the daughter of a wealthy heiress and a doctor. Born a fraternal twin, her life has been about carving out a place beside her brother. When a certain someone starts paying attention to only Thea, she becomes caught up in the attention. Rather than watch her perfect family unravel as a result of her actions, she’s sent to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls.

Built as a retreat for wealthy girls, the riding camp has become a haven for daughters of the rich during the Great Depression. The girls are given lessons in elocution, French, manners and, of course, riding. Though at first Thea feels like an outsider, she quickly comes into her own.

This book read a lot like a season of Downton Abbey. Thea reminds me a lot of Lady Mary – she’s headstrong and has a brief dalliance that threatens to ruin her life.

All-in-all I really liked this book and recommend it if you’re looking for something to read during your commute.

Read-a-Likes

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Every Day After by Laura Golden
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Rules of Civility by Amos Towles
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

Since this book reads a lot like a coming of age novel, I thought I’d include some additional picks for YA readers:

Children/YA Books

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Kit Boxed Set

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Book Review: The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett

The Bookman's Tale

The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett

Pub Date: May 28, 2013
Rating: 5/5

 

Every once in a while you find a book that so perfectly explores your interests that you’re overwhelmed; the kind of book that upon reading the description any one who knows you is bound to remark “Oh that’s a book for Alexandra.” The Bookman’s Tale is that book for me.

Peter Byerly is an antiquarian book dealer who has just lost his wife, the heiress Amanda. When Peter picks up and moves to England to escape his grief he finds himself in the middle of a centuries old quest for proof of Shakespeare’s authorship. Along the way Lovett gives glimpses into Elizabethan England, 18th century auctions and the book repair trade.

I’ve been interested in Shakespeare for a long time. I remember the first night I went to visit what would become my high school: there was an illustrious English teacher who spoke about Shakespearean authorship. Though I would quickly learn that Oxfordians are in the minority, it rocked my world to think that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare. I think that I went into an English degree partly because of that ten-minute talk!

Though it’s no surprise a librarian-in-training likes books about books, it wasn’t until I was putting together a list of read-a-like books that I realized I have quite the little obsession going. Here are a few books and movies that share an obsession with books:

Books

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Possession by A.S. Byatt
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

Movies

Anonymous
Shakespeare in Love
Possession
A Midsummer Night’s Dream

If you’re anything like me, after reading The Bookman’s tale you’ll be yearning for more information about antiquarian books. Here’s a few that caught my eye:

A Degree of Mastery: A Journey through Book Arts Apprenticeship by Annie Tremmel Wilcox
Contested Will by James Shapiro
The English Country House by Mary Miers
Shakespeare by Bill Bryson
The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare
Pandosto by Robert Greene
Books on the Move: Tracking Copies Through Collections and the Book Trade by Robin Myers

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Book Review: Someday, Someday Maybe

Someday, Someday Maybe

Someday, Someday Maybe

I fell head over heels for Lauren Graham way back in 2000. She was playing the quirky Lorelei on Gilmore Girls and she stole the show. Since then I’ve followed her career through  Evan Almighty and Parenthood, loving every minute of it.

Though I wasn’t necessarily surprised to see such a smart woman writing a novel, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it turned out. Unlike the tragic efforts of many actors-turned-writers (ahem, James Franco), Graham’s book is accessible, wonderful and perfect for its genre.

Franny Banks is a twenty-something aspiring actress waiting for her big break. The city life has lost its allure and late-night waitressing shifts are taking their toll. Rather than give up all together, Franny chooses to give acting one last shot.

Though Ballantine has marketed the book as “women’s fiction,” it strikes me as a perfect example of “new adult” These books concentrate on a character who is transitioning from college life to adulthood — a grown up The Catcher in the Rye if you will.

Overall, I really liked this book. It’s a good weekend read, nothing too heavy or too fluffy.

Rating: 3/5