Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Woman with a Gun (Book Review

Publication Information: Harper Collins, Hardcover, December 2014
Genre: Suspense
 Plot: This is a story within a story inspired by an unusual photograph of a woman in wedding dress approaching the ocean, holding a gun.  Stacey Kim is working as a receptionist at a law firm in New York to pay the bills while she nurses literary ambitions: 

"Stacey’s nonexistent social life and mind-numbing job would not have mattered if she was making progress on her novel, but she wasn’t . . . Each time Stacey stared at the blank page on her laptop she tried to rekindle the hope and excitement she had felt during her first days in New York, but all she felt was despair.
That was about to change."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

You’re Welcome vs. No Problem

I am a serial thanker.  This may be partly because of my experience in service industries or due to innate courtesy.  When living in NYC, I always thanked bus drivers profusely, partly to be nice but also convinced that some day one would recognize me running to catch up and would wait for me.  Recently, I have noticed a disturbing phenomenon: the new default response to a thank you from the younger generation is “no problem.”   However, I do not consider that “no problem” is by any means an equivalent to “you’re welcome” or that it is appropriate in all situations.

When someone says “you’re welcome,” she is making an affirmative representation that providing service to you was, if not her privilege, something that gave her satisfaction.  The transaction is cemented by gracious thanks on your side and polite assurance on hers.

In contrast, when someone responds to thanks with a “no problem,” whether courteously or airily delivered, it implies that there was a problem or that he was not overly inconvenienced by the service provided.  “It was not a problem for me to assist you in this way” or “There is no need to thank me because it didn’t cause me a problem.”   Does that individual intend to communicate churlishness?  Probably not (although the service I receive from some would indicate otherwise) but why not send the thanker off feeling appreciated rather than grudgingly tolerated?  Otherwise, why acknowledge the thanks at all? 

Is this generational, mere informality or a real decline in manners?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Outlander – Season 1, Episode 8, Both Sides Now – Recap

This episode begins in 20th century Inverness showing Frank’s side of Claire’s disappearance.  I never cared that much about Frank’s suffering but Ron Moore, the producer of Outlander, decided to fill out that part of the story.  The police tell Frank that they have spent six weeks investigating Claire’s disappearance without results and they have concluded she is still alive, probably with the Highlander Frank saw lurking outside her window.   Frank is furious with their lack of effort and assumptions about Claire, and says emphatically that his wife is not with another man.   
Immediate cut away to Claire with her other man – her new husband, Jamie. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Sea Garden (Book Review)

Title: The Sea Garden
Author: Deborah Lawrenson
Publication Information: HarperCollins, hardcover, 2014
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
Plot: This book consists of three interlocking novellas.  In the first story, set in 2013, Ellie Brooke, a landscape architect, has traveled to an island off the French coast to restore a long neglected garden. Her employer is an urbane older Frenchman with an eccentric elderly mother. Ellie’s visit has ominous overtones even before she reaches the decayed home of the de Fayols family, but she experiences the usual gothic intimidation once she arrives: hostility, a host who abandons her, mysterious strangers, her possessions rifled, and she becomes mysteriously dizzy.  Ellie’s narrative ends abruptly.

The second story appears unconnected.  Set during WWII, it is about a blind young Frenchwoman who works for a small family perfume business in Provence.  Slowly, Marthe becomes aware that her employers are involved in the Resistance and are sheltering English and American pilots and agents, later to be smuggled past the German soldiers to safety.  Can shy but appealing Marthe play a part in this dangerous undertaking?

The third and most appealing story, also set during WWII, is about Iris Nightingale, a young woman working for British intelligence in London.  Part of her job is preparing men and women to go undercover in Occupied France.  We see Iris gain in confidence as the war goes on and her responsibilities increase (although the condescension of the men she works for is infuriating); then she falls in love with a dashing French agent, and her life will never be the same.     

Audience: Fans of historical fiction and of “past-present” books; those interested in WWII.

What I liked:  Overall, this book was a good blend of suspense and enough romance to make it interesting.  At first, I had a hard time getting into it because the first novella, Ellie’s story, was very dark and seemingly disorganized, and left me wondering what I had missed.  However, Marthe’s narrative, although familiar to me from many books about occupied France (for example, Fair Stood the Wind for France, which I enjoyed last year), was somewhat different because told through the prism of her blindness.  It was improbable but dramatic and unexpected.   Most of all, I enjoyed the third story, which was set in WWII London and had a dramatic and magical feel.  Iris was a delightful heroine, practical and good humored, but capable of a great romance with a dashing French stranger.  I also liked Iris’ friendship with another young woman working in British Intelligence and her work for a formidable boss, Miss Acton.  Several times, I found myself wishing the whole book had been told from Iris’ perspective because (as has been well disclosed) I love books about young women’s war work. 

The author left it very late to reveal the mystery connecting the three novellas, and while I had somewhat figured out where she was going I was still surprised by some of the outcome (and admired the unexpected ending, despite not liking it).  Once I finished the book, I had to reread the entire first section to see if some of my confusion would be alleviated.

What I disliked:  As mentioned elsewhere, the three novellas were uneven and I am still perplexed by some of the things that happened to Ellie, including the significance of the man who committed suicide on the boat, and how a newspaper story about her landscape work caused a woman on a remote French island to seek her services (well, I understand how but wish it were a little more plausible). And I can’t help feeling it is a pity to have a devastating hero like Xavier but give him so little time on stage.  

Source: I received an advance copy of this book from Harper Collins in return for an honest review.  Despite some unanswered questions, I recommend The Sea Garden enthusiastically, especially to friends who share my passion for fiction about WWII – four stars.  Let’s compare notes about Ellie’s part of the story when you finish.