Tuesday, July 20, 2010

If You Only Read One Book This Summer...

I can't believe that I haven't posted since late May! Now it is July and we are well into cottage season. The weather has been cooperating even if my children have not (removing two teens from their city friends for days at a time is strenuous work). So, I've read a handful of books since my last blog post and thought I would post some comments on the few standouts.

One of the books on my radar for awhile had been, The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. I had loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and thought that Blake's novel might follow a similar vein.

Brief synopsis of Guernsey as taken from Amazon:
It is the winter of 1946 in London when our story opens. Author Juliet Ashton is pondering, no searching for ideas for her next book. She's surprised to receive a letter from the island of Guernsey, which was once under German occupation. The epistle is from a man she does not know, Dawsey Adams, who now has a book by Charles Lamb that once belonged to Juliet. Dawsey wants to know where he might find more books by Lamb. Juliet's curiosity is aroused by this man who shares her affinity for Lamb, and in future correspondence he tells her that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a group formed for mutual protection during the German occupation. Eventually, Juliet receives letters from other members of the Society, a disparate yet fascinating group, each with a story to tell. In due time she decides she must meet her new friends.

Brief synopsis of Postmistress by Donna on Goodreads:
“The Postmistress” is set in the years 1940-41, both on Cape Cod and in Europe. The reader follows the paths of three women – Emma, Iris, and Frankie – as Europe experiences Hitler’s fury and Americans wonder if they will enter the war. Emma has just married Will, a doctor on Cape Cod. She wants to make a good impression on the people there, and make a good home for her husband. Iris is the Postmaster of the same town Emma moves to, and watches over the people of the town...

The Postmistress was at best a sluggish read. There was little connection between the characters and the European and American storylines until the very end. By then, I was thinking, just wrap it up already! The American characters were limp and moved through the pages under sedation. I felt quite apathetic towards them, finding myself thinking, what is their purpose? I enjoyed Frankie's story in Europe, and wished this could have been fleshed out for a better read. It was a very anticlimatic rush to tie up loose ends and make it weave into Iris and Emma's story. Overall, I was disappointed with this book and found the Guernsey book the superior read. In Shaffer's book, the characters are colourful and vivid and although you are reading through a series of telegraphs and letters, you are instantly drawn into the horror and the hope, of occupied life, for the people on this island.

What's interesting is that Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, gave a rave review for The Postmistress which led me to picking up Blake's novel. I had just finished Stockett's book, The Help, and was spellbound. Influenced by her endorsement, and many other great reviews, I read The Postmistress. It just wasn't for me. Maybe I missed the intended "deepness." Sometimes you just have to hit me over the head with a shovel; I'm not a "subtle nuances" type of girl.

But if you read just one book this summer, let it be The Help. A powerful story of white southern ladies and [their] black maids in 1960's Mississippi and of the determined efforts of the civil rights movement that would change all of their lives. The story is told by three first person narrators. Aibileen, the black maid that has spent her life caring for young children, Aibileen's friend Minnie, an outspoken maid whose reputation makes it difficult for her to keep a job, and 22 year old Skeeter, recent Ole Miss. grad who is not entirely sold on the mint julep way of life into which she is born.

My only criticism with this story is that it ended. Literally ended. I thought there would be an epilogue, or a "here's what happened to them" or "let's tie up all the loose ends and wrap it in a pretty box for the reader" chapter. Nope. Not to say it didn't have an ending, it did. I just couldn't accept that after only 400 some-odd pages I would have to say goodbye to these endearing characters.

Finally, a few novels that I enjoyed from my favourite genre(s), historical fiction -gothic - contemporary gothic, postmodern, Victorian/Edwardian era.

Michel Faber's, The Crimson Petal and the White. This is the story of a 19 year old prostitute named Sugar in Victorian England and her relationship with a wealthy perfumier, his mad wife and neglected child. It is a lengthy graphic and gritty story of both the topcoat and underbelly of society told by the main characters and even a Dickensian-like omniscient narrator. And it too, literally comes to a screeching halt of an ending. However, the author published a series of short stories entitled, The Apple, in 2006, which include the ongoing stories of some of the characters from The Crimson Petal. I have yet to locate this book.

Jennifer Donnelly's Rose trilogy is a more sanitized style of similar subject matter. I read both The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose back to back and the final book, The Wild Rose is set for release in 2011.
Book synopsis from Amazon:
In 1888, Fiona Finnegan and Joe Bristow hoard shillings and pennies so that they can marry and open a shop. But Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of London's East End, and poverty threatens from the shadows. Setting the story in motion is the murder of Fiona's father, a dock worker whose union activities angered his tea-company boss. Fiona and her younger brother must flee to New York City to avoid their own murders. Through hard work and luck, Fiona and her beloved Joe prosper on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Misunderstandings and mistakes keep them apart as they build separate lives and incredible fortunes.

The second book of the trilogy is The Winter Rose. Another epic story from Donnelly that continues the storylines of familar characters and introduces new characters to move the adventure forward.

Here is the Amazon synopsis:

In late Victorian London, idealistic new medical school graduate India Selwyn Jones goes to work at a clinic in the city's poorest neighborhood, much to the dismay of her aristocratic mother and ambitious fiancé, political up-and-comer Freddie Lytton. The squalor is a bit much for India, but she manages to keep her emotions under control until she meets underworld crime boss Sid Malone. Sid begins as India's nemesis, becomes her patient and ends up something much more than that. What India doesn't know is that Sid is the brother of tea heiress Fiona Bristow, wife of self-made, highly principled businessman Joseph Bristow. What Sid doesn't know is that India's fiancé is as ruthless as Sid's most ruthless henchman, willing to commit theft, betrayal and even murder to launch his career, force India out of hers and bring down Sid in the process. In typical epic style, Donnelly (The Tea Rose) alternates India's story with Sid's, Freddie's, Joseph's and Fiona's, leading the reader through turn-of-the-century England from the Houses of Parliament to ale houses and whore houses, and from London to Africa and beyond.

My next read? Well, at the suggestion of my friend Lynn, I went to the library in search of anything by Nancy Mitford. Turns out only the main library and not my branch, had some Mitford's, and so I left with some Lisa See novels and a bunch by Marek Halter. If I walk in, I must borrow! Yes, every once in awhile I crave musty paper books and put my e-reader down momentarily.


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