Thursday, January 30, 2020

Bettina's Book Tagging Game

Finishing School: Further Studies in Schoolgirl Literature is primarily a group for literary analysis and general discussion of children's books.   This week, my friend Bettina posed a tagging game, asking for a book:

1. Containing a map?

I found several, and chose a book that was my mother’s before it was mine, At the Sign of the Golden Anchor by Ruth Langland Holberg (1947), set in Gloucester, Massachusetts, about an hour away from me.  The map is of Annisquam Harbor (Massachusetts), 1812.
2. With a Sunday School prize plate?

This took me much longer to find than I had expected!   Long Barrow by Gwendoline Courtney (1950) finally yielded a book plate – Nancy MacIntosh earned it for good attendance in 1956-57.   One can’t help wondering why they didn’t give her a more recently published book!  They must have been big Courtney fans like me.  I think Gill Bilski found this for me.
3. Showing defiant girl on the cover?

I think this heroine, a Paul Revere wannabe, looks pretty defiant in Midnight Rider by Joan Hiatt Harlow (2005).
4. With a character or place with your name?

Constance by Patricia Clapp is an old favorite.   She was a real person who sailed on the Mayflower and this book was Runner-up for the National Book Award for Children's Literature in 1969.
5. Which is a Puffin paperback?

I have quite a few but the first one I found was Thursday by Catherine Storr (1972). This is about a troubled teenager who disappears and Bee, his only friend, who tries to find him.  I am a bigger fan of her Marianne Dreams.
Three of these books are set in Massachusetts which is fun but unintended!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Time for you to try some D.E. Stevenson?

Just a quick post to share this delightful speech that D.E. Stevenson gave to the "book trade" in Glasgow in or around the late 1960s.   Check out the Dean Street Press blog to read it.

Stevenson (1892-1973) was a bestselling author of light romantic fiction, known for her warm and captivating characters, her humor, her vivid settings (often Scotland but sometimes London), and her wonderful storytelling.   Reading about how she crafted her stories was very interesting for a fan like me.
For those who have never read her books, several have been reprinted by the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint of Dean Street Press.   Try one of these in book or electronic form:

Spring Magic - 25-year-old Frances Field escapes to a small village in Scotland to finds herself

Vittoria Cottage - Caroline, a young widow, and her children, find romance in small English town - but it's complicated . . .

Mrs. Tim Christie (aka Mrs. Tim of the Regiment) - Set in the 1930s, this is written in the form of journal entries about Hester Christie's quirky life as the wife of a British military officer.
I look forward to adding to my shelves soon!

Monday, January 20, 2020

A Sister's Courage, historical fiction set in Britain during World War II

Title: A Sister’s Courage, Victory Sisters #1
Author: Molly Green
Publication: Avon, Paperback, 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: This is the beginning of a trilogy about three English sisters determined to do their bit in World War II.  Raine Linfoot, the eldest sister, living in Kent just before WWII, is captivated by aviation and is determined to learn how to fly. Her father supports her dream but tries to appease Raine’s French-born mother who is more traditional and would prefer her daughters focus on pretty clothes and young men (and clearly has a Hidden Sorrow from her Past). Raine’s sisters have goals of their own: Suzanne is musical and Ronnie loves animals and being outside. Although gifted academically, Raine leaves school when she secures a clerical job at a nearby airbase and manages to score flying lessons from good-natured pilot Doug White.

After the war begins, Raine applies and is eventually accepted to the Air Transport Auxiliary where women are allowed to fly planes, not in combat, but mostly ferrying the aircraft to locations where they are needed. It can be dangerous work because the equipment is not always well maintained and appears rudimentary at best. The men in uniform are primarily hostile due to her gender, sexually abusive, or fall in love with her, although there are a few who simply value the hard-working women in uniform. Raine copes with various challenges, including family complications and two men who love her. The real heroine of the story is Pauline Gower, the British pilot and writer who established the women's branch of the Air Transport Auxiliary during WWII and died tragically young at 37, giving birth to twins.
WWII Spitfire
My Impressions: Historical fiction about women coping with war, either at home or at work, has fascinated me for as long as I can remember, and I was delighted to be invited to read the first book in this series. The author’s research on WWII and the role of women in the Air Transport Auxiliary, including not just the planes they flew but also detail about the aircraft they flew and where they lived locally, was thorough and well done. I often wonder what I would have done had I lived in that era: I would like to have been decoding enemy messages at Bletchley Park but I am not very good at puzzles. I don’t think I would be good at nursing or flying either, and am sure I would hate being a land girl (the goal of Raine’s sister Ronnie). It might have to be espionage, although not the type of adventure where one parachutes into Occupied France!

This genre of historical fiction is fairly common in Britain and quite enjoyable, although lighter than some of the recent WWII bestsellers such as All The Light We Cannot See and Those Who Save Us.  For a link to my favorites, click here.  There were some things about the story that bothered me, however, and could have been improved upon with a good editor. The characters seemed too generically drawn and thus were not very memorable; moreover, Raine is not a likeable heroine (she is apparently so beautiful that men overlook or are amused by her rudeness). When the book begins, like many 17-year-olds, she is self-absorbed, dismissive of her mother’s concerns about her and insensitive about the family’s financial worries but, although she cares about her sisters, she is unnecessarily rude to others. Also, if you had learned a close friend got pregnant and is still devastated by having been abandoned by the father and her family, wouldn’t you hesitate about sleeping with someone you have only met a handful of times? I also thought it was odd that Raine’s friend and flying instructor, with whom she had never even had a flirtatious correspondence, would suddenly assume their relationship should become romantic, with no encouragement. One could imagine his hoping their relationship would evolve once she matured, especially when enduring wartime trauma, but he made a lot of assumptions. These were all issues the author could have addressed, as well as choosing a more meaningful title (of course, I know from my days in publishing that sometimes the publisher rather than the author selects the title). Despite these quibbles, I will look forward to reading the books about Suzanne and Ronnie coming later in 2020.

I was reminded of Betty Cavanna’s A Girl Can Dream, published in 1948 (now available in Kindle), not long after the setting of Molly Green’s trilogy, but set in a world closer to Happy Days than wartime Britain. In that book, Rette Larkin, another girl who disdains typical teen activities, yearns to fly like her older brother, who was a WWII pilot. When her local airport announces an essay contest for flying lessons, Rette writes about “The Dream of Flying” and wins. Of course, Rette’s worries are trivial compared to Raine’s – no sexual harassment in Betty Cavanna but lots of angst about a high school dance. When she gets a date at the last minute, even a would-be aviator wants to “press [her] plaid taffeta” and wash her hair and get a manicure. In contrast, Raine encounters a German bomber and nearly loses her life because the Women’s Auxiliary do not carry weaponry.  Obviously, these books were written for quite different audiences.  Green is appealing to a target market nostalgic for the heroism on the home front during WWII and possibly also for fans of Downton Abbey, set a generation earlier.

Purchase LinksAmazon * Barnes & Noble * IndieBound *Books-A-Million * HarperCollins

Off the Blog: I am tidying up in preparation for hosting my Book Group but it is so easy to get distracted by the piles of books everywhere.  Oh well, I suppose my friends are used to that. We are reading The Game: Harvard, Yale and America in 1968, by George Howe Colt, which I highly recommend.
Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher, Avon Books, and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

Wednesday, January 22nd: Book by Book
Thursday, January 23rd: Girl Who Reads
Friday, January 24th: Really Into This
Monday, January 27th: Instagram: @babygotbooks13
Monday, January 27th: Instagram: @nurse_bookie
Tuesday, January 28th: Jathan & Heather
Wednesday, January 29th: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Wednesday, January 29th: Instagram: @barkingaboutbooks
Thursday, January 30th: Laura’s Reviews
Thursday, January 30th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Thursday, January 30th: Instagram: @rendezvous_with_reading
Friday, January 31st: View from the Birdhouse
Monday, February 3rd: BookNAround
Wednesday, February 5th: Openly Bookish

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Favorite Reads of 2015

Here is my Best of 2015 list. Better late than never!

Children’s Books

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (2015)
As some of you know, I love evacuation stories! This is the best one I have read since Back Home by Michelle Magorian in 1984. Here, when Ada and her brother are evacuated to the country during WWII, a whole new world is revealed to Ada, who has never left her family’s apartment due to a twisted foot – and a twisted mother.

Historical Fiction
The King’s Falcon by Stella Riley (2014)
Third in her Civil War series (which has attracted diehard fans), this book follows Ashley Peverell and Francis Langley, minor characters in previous books, who have accompanied Charles II into exile in Paris. Ashley becomes involved with a beautiful actress, Athenais de Galzain, who has a powerful enemy, as if Ashley didn’t already have more trouble than he can handle . . .

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009)
First in a three-book series about Thomas Cromwell, a surprisingly sympathetic look at the ambitious statesman who engineered Henry VIII’s divorce. It is very absorbing although I usually dislike books written in the present tense. Apparently, this is a trend:
This contemporary upsurge can perhaps be traced back to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which won the Booker prize in 2009. But when she began working on a novel that put the camera behind Cromwell’s eyes, there was no theory attached, Mantel has explains: “I was writing as I saw it.
“It was only a little later I became aware of what had happened and saw that I’d made two important decisions very quickly – tense and point of view. And they are inextricable.”
Suspense

Red Sparrow (2013) and Palace of Treason (2015) by Jason Matthews
The first two books about Nathaniel Nash, a young CIA officer, and his opposite number, Russian intelligence officer Dominika Egorova, are fast-paced and brutal and impossible to put down.
Now You See Me by Sharon Bolton (2011)
My sisters and I love this mystery series about Lacey Flint, a young detective constable in London. This review from the News & Advance in Lynchburg does a great job capturing her appeal. I know Sharon Bolton is tired of people begging her to write more books about Lacey so I try to coax only once a year. I like her standalones too but more Lacey would be great.

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths by Harry Bingham (2014)
We also like this dark series about a very unusual Welsh detective who goes undercover in her determination to solve a crime. This is the third book in the series and is not for the faint of heart.

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood (2013)
All the residents in this London apartment building have something to hide – and one of them is a killer. I listened to this on audio as I painted my guest room, and was fascinated by the quirky characters.

Echo Park (Bosch #12) by Michael Connelly (2006)
When a serial killer confesses to the murder of one of Harry’s cold cases, Harry must reopen the investigation under media glare.  For years I wondered why my sister and father were such fans of Harry Bosch and then I became hooked myself.

Fiction
The Blue Sky of Spring by Elizabeth Cadell (1956)
I had read the other books in the series many years ago but somehow missed this book about the irrepressible Wayne family, which comes second and is now back in print. This series is laugh-out-loud funny!

Nonfiction

Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson (2010)
This was the best nonfiction I had read in years and I spent much of the year recommending it to friends, including rushing a copy of the audiobook to my brother who was then in Rome. Olson describes how three key Americans in London maintained our allegiance with Britain before America came into WWII: Edward R. Murrow, the handsome journalist from CBS News in Europe; Averell Harriman, the millionaire who ran FDR’s Lend-Lease program in London; and John Gilbert Winant from New Hampshire, the idealistic U.S. ambassador to Britain (cousin of my friend Tim).

YA
The Hired Girl by Laura Schlitz (2015)
Seeking a better life and adventure, sheltered fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs escapes from her family’s farm to become a hired girl to an affluent Baltimore family. Schlitz won the Newbery for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village, her Canterbury Tales-like book but I prefer The Hired Girl and A Drowned Maiden’s Hair.
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen (2014)
First in a fantasy trilogy, set in the future, in which a young orphan learns her identity and the need to claim her dead mother’s throne—and defeat the Red Queen, a cruel sorceress determined to destroy anyone who stands in her way.

Best Rereads

The Lark Shall Sing (1955) and Six Impossible Things (1961) by Elizabeth Cadell
Book 1 and Book 3 about the Wayne family; now back in print. See above.

The Black Madonna: Roundheads and Cavaliers #1 by Stella Riley (1992)
Stubborn, red-headed Kate Maxwell resents the changes caused by the English Civil War and the annoying attraction she feels for Italian goldsmith, Luciano del Santi, who cares only about avenging his father’s death.

Best Twist Ending Although It Annoyed Me

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (2014)
Fourteen-year-old Jenna Metcalf is obsessed with the disappearance of her mother, a scientist who studied elephant grief, and is determined to find her.


Here is my Goodreads 2015 Year in Books

Favorite Reads of 2019
Favorite Reads of 2018
Favorite Reads of 2017
Favorite Reads of 2016
Favorite Reads of 2013
Favorite Reads of 2011
Favorite Reads of 2010
Favorite Reads of 2009
Favorite Reads of 2008

By the way, don't forget to watch Sanditon!  I am enjoying it.

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Bookworm Crush by Lisa Brown Roberts

Title: The Bookworm Crush 
Author: Lisa Brown Roberts
Publication: Trade paperback, 2019, Entangled Publishing
Genre: Young Adult

Plot: Amy McIntyre, a rising high school senior, longs to win the chance to interview her favorite romance author but is worried that her natural reticence will prevent her from making the necessary impression on social media.  In desperation, she asks for help from her classmate Toff Nichols, a star surfer who rarely takes anything else seriously.  Toff is very popular and has always overlooked Amy, but he is intrigued by her request that he coach her to self confidence and agrees, with hilarious – if predictable – results.  Amy has long had a crush on Toff but once they start spending time together she learns that he has insecurities too, which may prevent him from recognizing he has feelings for her.

My Impressions: This is a delightful book I happened upon when visiting Tattered Cover in Denver in November.  I was standing in the YA department with my friend Camilla when it caught my eye.   You know the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”?  I picked it up for its cover and then found the description equally appealing so purchased it for my sister and read it on the plane flying back to Boston.

Roberts is skilled at creating vivid characters, both major and minor.   I really enjoyed Amy and Toff, who were secondary players in a previous book, The Replacement Crush (which I am now waiting for from the library) by Roberts.  Amy’s pesky but cute little brother is portrayed more accurately than many siblings in fiction and his interactions with Toff are well done.   Even the grumpy Officer Hernandez is memorable.  And naturally, I appreciated that everything reminded Amy of a book because that happens to me too!

In some books, Toff’s surfing dedication and lack of interest in books might make him a sexy but one-dimensional character.  Instead, the reader learns that losing his mother who read him Harry Potter may have turned him off reading and how a surfing injury forces Toff to reevaluate some of his priorities.   Most importantly, Toff begins to mature and also reads a book or two!   I can’t wait to read more from this author.
Off the Blog: Meghan and Harry checking out of the Royal Family!   I understand their reasoning and agree Meghan has been treated abysmally by the British Press but I do not approve of Harry neglecting his duty and making such a decision without the Queen's approval.  And I hate that William and Harry, after all they have been through, may be estranged.  Somewhere Wallis Simpson is smirking . . .

Are you Team Meghan or Team Queen?

Source: Copy purchased for my sister’s birthday.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Six Degrees of Separation: From Daisy Jones and the Six to This Song Will Save Your Life

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid is Kate’s starting book this month.  It got great reviews and I actually checked it out from the library over the summer but did not get around to reading it.   Still, I know it’s about a rock band so I stuck with the theme of rock music for my first book:
Till the Stars Fall by Kathleen Gilles Seidel (1994).  This book is about siblings in Minnesota, Krissa and Danny French, who realize one of them needs to make it out of their poor mining community.   Danny somehow gets to Princeton (although Krissa is the brilliant student) and makes friends with Quinn Hunter, and they start a rock band that becomes very successful.   Krissa and Quinn fall in love, although as I recall, the book is much more than a romance and the romance is very rocky.   I remember reading this book in manuscript form when I worked at Penguin; it was uber-talented editor Jennifer Enderlin who acquired two books by Seidel and was eager for my feedback. I also remember we argued about the cover design forever and the end result was unimpressive (my memories of Penguin include a lot of cover arguments between sales and editorial; oddly enough, when I worked at Putnam Berkley sales was not allowed at cover meetings, so I wonder how it works now that the two companies are merged).
Rock stars made me think of my second book, Mel by Liz Berry (1988), an English writer who produced several offbeat but memorable YA novels.  Here, 17-year old Mel is dealing with her mother’s hospitalization and the old Victorian house they live in when she is (I can’t recall exactly how) swept off her feet by charismatic rock star Mitch.

My third book is about rock wannabes: Our Secret Better Lives by my friend Matthew Amster-Burton (2017), perhaps better known for his charming book Hungry Monkey which I enjoy giving at baby showers.  Our Better Secret Lives is coming of age story about Katy, a college student who suddenly finds herself playing the guitar, writing songs, and starting a rock band.   This book practically made me feel I was part of the grunge scene.

All the rock stars above are benign, as I recall, but the one in my fourth book is a jerk.  Audrey, Wait is by Robin Benway (2008), whose books are getting better and better (I really liked Far from the Tree).  In this one, Audrey’s annoying ex-boyfriend-rock-star's song about their breakup reaches the top of the charts and she's suddenly famous – and not in a good way.
My fifth book is Born to Rock by Gordon Korman (2006).  Korman wrote his first book when he was 12 and his writing seems to be split between lighthearted middle grade or YA fiction and some more suspenseful series.  I have to admit I especially enjoyed his Chasing the Falconers series and a YA novel called Jake, Reinvented that was a retelling of The Great Gatsby. This book is about a conventional teenager who learns his biological father is the lead singer of punk rock's most destructive band.
My sixth book is a little different.  Although there is at least one rocker in it, This Song Will Save Your Life (2013) by Leila Sales is about music and a lonely teenager who becomes a DJ.  It was a 5-star book for me that year.  I attended a book signing at the Brookline Booksmith a couple years ago and enjoyed meeting her.
I was tempted to use The Exes by Pagan Kennedy, a fairly well-known novel about an Indie Boston rock band composed of musicians who have slept together.  However, I didn’t want to include something I hadn’t read.   I wonder if this would be a good choice for my book group?   It is my turn to choose (I wish I got to pick every month but it is a reward for the hostess) but I already chose The Game by George Howe Colt (married to Anne Fadiman) for when I host later this month.  So far it is fabulous!
Next month's book is Fleishman is in Trouble by a woman who writes for the New York Times Magazine and likes to profile celebrities.   She is best known for a piece about Gwyneth Paltrow.