Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

home fires masthead

It’s no secret I love a good British period drama, especially Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife and Lark Rise to Candleford. This fall, I’ve been swept up in the latest series showing on Masterpiece PBS: Home Fires.

Home Fires follows a group of women in the fictional village of Great Paxford, most of them involved with the local Women’s Institute, at the outset of World War II. The show’s marketing has centered around the ongoing feud between traditionalist Joyce Cameron and new WI leader Frances Barden, but the plotlines delve deeply into the lives of several more women: quiet bookkeeper Alison Scotlock, schoolteacher Teresa Fenchurch, stoic farm wife Steph Farrow.

Most of the women are committed to “doing their bit” and to the work of the WI: making jam from local produce that would otherwise go to waste, building an air-raid shelter for the village, raising funds for ambulances. The WI gives Frances (in particular) a purpose to fill her days. But all the characters are also grappling with other challenges: family illness, raising teenagers, financial difficulties, deep marital rifts. Several of them have husbands or sons who end up going off to fight. All of them find their lives irrevocably changed by the war, and each of them has to make hard choices over and over again.

Home Fires is a quiet show: it lacks the tense life-or-death scenes of Call the Midwife or the soapy drama of Downton. So far (the first season ranges from 1939-40), there are few massive military battles being fought. But the quietness is what I love about it. It is a show about ordinary people living small but valuable lives, who are called upon to do things they never thought they would have to do.

I am not (obviously) living in a war zone or facing the same challenges as the women of Home Fires. But I am fighting my own battles every day, and I am also mourning with the world after Paris and Beirut, wondering where it will all end. I’ve enjoyed the period detail and witty dialogue of Home Fires, but most of all I have loved watching these women as they face what comes.

Sometimes they fail. (They are human, after all.) Sometimes personal tragedy shakes them to their cores. But most often, they rise to the occasion – usually with quiet humility, sometimes with all flags flying. They adapt and make do; they find new ways to solve thorny problems. They hear bad news, and mourn, and then get back up and move forward. Together.

Courage has been variously defined as grace under pressure, the judgment that something else is more important than fear, or the simple act of seeing something through. The women of Home Fires embody all these definitions, and I’m looking forward to watching them face new challenges in season 2.

Have you watched Home Fires? What did you think?

(Image from pbs.org)

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library stack roses

(My latest library haul – all 14-day books. No pressure.)

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books, Cara Nicoletti
Julia reviewed this delicious food memoir at Great New Books. It’s a series of brief essays on books Nicoletti has read and loved, with recipes inspired by each book. Wonderful glimpses into her childhood and career as a chef and butcher. I loved this line about Boston, where Nicoletti is from and where I live now: “bruised history and mixed-up streets and good, good people.”

The Two Mrs. Abbotts, D.E. Stevenson
Barbara (Buncle) Abbott, her niece and their fellow villagers are facing the changes brought about by World War II: evacuees from London, soldiers all around, German spies (!) in the woods. This book felt a bit disjointed, and I missed Sam, Barbara’s nephew. Still cozy and charming, like all Stevenson’s novels.

Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries, ed. Martin Edwards
Christmas is ripe for mysteries and ghost stories, from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to the 16 shorts (all Golden Age and British) collected here. A little uneven, as anthologies tend to be. I particularly liked the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy Sayers, but some of the more obscure ones are also fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 3).

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between, Jennifer E. Smith
On the night before they leave for college, Clare and Aidan have to decide whether to stay together or break up. The result is a tour through the past two years of their relationship, including the sticky parts. I like Smith’s sweet YA love stories, but this one fell a little flat. (Though it vividly recalled the agony of breaking up with my high school boyfriend right before college.)

Ornaments of Death, Jane K. Cleland
New Hampshire antiques appraiser Josie Prescott is thrilled to have found a distant relative just in time for the holidays. But when he disappears after attending Josie’s Christmas party, she grows worried and puts her amateur sleuthing skills to work. A so-so cozy mystery; I liked Josie and the setting, but I saw a few twists coming. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 1).

The Odds of Getting Even, Sheila Turnage
Right before the trial of the century in Tupelo Landing, N.C., the defendant – Dale Johnson’s good-for-nothing daddy – breaks out of jail. Miss Moses LoBeau, Dale’s best friend, rounds up the Desperado Detectives to track him down and solve a series of smaller mysteries (break-ins, a fire). I love Mo – sassy and big-hearted – and her wacky supporting cast of small-town characters. So fun.

Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf
Addie Moore and Louis Waters, both elderly and widowed, strike up a friendship – spending nights together at Addie’s house, just talking. Haruf eloquently explores the terrain of this new relationship, in spare, melancholy language. Beautiful, evocative and bittersweet. Recommended by Lindsey.

Come Rain or Come Shine, Jan Karon
It’s the wedding of the decade in Mitford – Dooley Barlowe and Lace Harper are getting married at Meadowgate Farm. Father Tim Kavanagh and various other family members and friends pitch in to make the big day a success. I liked hearing Lace’s and Dooley’s perspectives in this book, but it felt a little slight to me. Still, I always love a visit to Mitford.

Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace
Emily Webster is feeling let down: she’s just graduated high school, but she can’t go to college like her friends. Feeling “stuck” in Deep Valley, Emily learns to “muster her wits” – designing a program of study for herself, making new friends and learning to build a life of her own. This was a reread – I love this book so much.

A School for Brides, Patrice Kindl
The young ladies of the Winthrop Hopkins Academy (well, most of them) are eager to marry well, but they’re stuck in a Yorkshire backwater with hardly any men. A few unexpected visitors and some clever scheming help to change things, however. A really fun YA send-up of Regency drawing-room comedies. I also enjoyed Kindl’s previous novel, Keeping the Castle.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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strand books nyc exterior

September was a good reading month. (I took the latter half of it off from buying books, so I could try to make a dent in the TBR stacks.) Here’s the final roundup:

A Window Opens, Elisabeth Egan
I picked up this novel after reading Lindsey’s glowing review. It follows Alice Pearse, a thirtysomething mother of three and book lover who takes a job at a flashy “new media” company. Alice juggles her kids’ schedules, her father’s healthcare and her husband’s struggles, while harboring serious doubts about her job. Compulsively readable and often witty; flawed but thought-provoking.

Goodbye Stranger, Rebecca Stead
Tabitha, Bridget and Emily have been best friends for years. But seventh grade brings new challenges for them all, and tests their long-standing “no fighting” rule. I loved the girls’ intertwined story; I especially loved Bridge, who isn’t quite sure how to navigate this new world, and her friend Sherm. Wise, moving and true. (I also loved Stead’s When You Reach Me.)

First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, Bee Wilson
The way we learn to eat as young children can have a powerful effect on the rest of our lives. Wilson explores eating patterns through the lens of weaning, baby food, social experiments, family dinner, eating disorders and more. She occasionally gets bogged down in the research, but gleans some fascinating insights. (I also loved her book Consider the Fork.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 1).

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler, Trudi Kanter
When the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, Viennese hat designer Trudi Kanter (a Jew) and her family had to flee the country. Trudi’s memoir chronicles their roundabout journey to England (with some lovely scenes of prewar Paris and Vienna). A bit disjointed at times, but vividly told. Trudi is a sharp-eyed, resourceful, even cheeky narrator.

A Century of November, W.D. Wetherell
After losing his son, Billy, in World War I, widower Charles Marden travels to France from western Canada to see the place where his son died. A harrowing journey, told in beautiful sentences; a stark, often surreal portrait of the aftermath of trench warfare.

Miss Buncle Married, D.E. Stevenson
Barbara Buncle (now Mrs. Abbott) and her husband move to a new village, and find themselves exasperated and delighted by their new neighbors. I missed the fun of Barbara-as-author, and the beginning was slow, but in the end, this novel was as much fun as the first one.

The Case of the Missing Marquess, Nancy Springer
Who knew Sherlock Holmes had a younger sister? Enola Holmes, left alone when her mother disappears on her 14th birthday, heads to London to try and find her. Along the way, she solves the titular kidnapping case. A fun beginning to a middle-grade series, with cameos by Sherlock and Mycroft. Found at the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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spring picture books harvard book store cambridge ma
March has come in like a lion, for sure. Here’s what I’ve been reading as the snowbanks (start to) melt.

Fairest, Marissa Meyer
This telling of evil Queen Levana’s story (from The Lunar Chronicles) is kind of depressing. And it won’t make sense if you haven’t read the series. But if you have (and are eagerly awaiting the next book, Winter), it’s worth reading.

Mr. Kiss and Tell, Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
It’s tough to translate a TV series to fiction, but Thomas and Graham are doing a great job. This second Veronica Mars novel follows a sordid rape case and a(nother) sheriff election in Neptune. Both gritty and witty.

Stella Rose, Tammy Flanders Hetrick
When her best friend Stella dies of cancer, Abby St. Claire becomes guardian to Stella’s teenage daughter, Olivia. Through a turbulent year, Abby and Olivia mourn Stella while figuring out how to live without her. Heartbreaking, funny and wise, though I found the climax melodramatic. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 21).

Mrs. Tim Flies Home, D.E. Stevenson
Mrs. Tim spends the summer in a quiet village – which isn’t quite so quiet. An acerbic landlady, a gossipy neighbor and the romantic troubles of her young friends make for an entertaining few months. I love Mrs. Tim, and I’ll miss her (this is the last book in the series).

Love Walked In, Marisa de los Santos
I love this lyrical, wise, hopeful story – it’s got old movies, a homey coffee shop, characters I want to be friends with, and so many beautiful sentences. My third time to read it and I was captivated all over again.

Secrets of a Charmed Life, Susan Meissner
Our fearless leader Jennifer recommended this book at Great New Books. It’s a heartbreaking story of two sisters whose lives are forever altered by World War II, and a powerful meditation on choices and responsibility.

Five Nights in Paris: After Dark in the City of Light, John Baxter
An entertaining premise: five nighttime Paris walks, each based on one of the five senses. But Baxter digresses so often that the structure gets totally lost. Uneven; sometimes charming, sometimes vulgar. Possibly to review for Shelf Awareness (out April 14).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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february vacation books

Between plane delays, crazy long commutes and cold, dark evenings, I’ve been reading a lot lately. (But then, when am I not?) Here’s what I’ve read (and loved) recently.

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham
Veronica Mars is back in her hometown of Neptune, CA, and when a couple of coeds go missing over Spring Break, she’s on the case. Fast-paced, snarky and featuring all the characters I love.

All Fall Down, Ally Carter
Grace Blakely is convinced her mother was murdered, but no one believes her. When she returns to Embassy Row to live with her grandfather, the U.S. ambassador, she starts digging for answers and is shocked at what she finds. An engaging setup for Carter’s newest YA series, though I found Grace kind of bratty.

Queen of Hearts, Rhys Bowen
I love Bowen’s Royal Spyness mystery series following the adventures of Lady Georgiana Rannoch. This eighth entry sees Georgie sailing to America with her actress mother, where they get mixed up with wacky Hollywood types – and a murder. So much fun.

One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia
I loved this story of Delphine and her sisters, who go to stay with their activist-poet mother in Oakland in the summer of 1968. They learn a lot about the Black Panthers, their family and each other. Gorgeously written. Recommended by Kari.

The Mapmaker’s Children, Sarah McCoy
I’d never given a thought to abolitionist John Brown’s family – but I loved this novel featuring his artist daughter, Sarah Brown, and her connection to Eden, a modern-day woman struggling with infertility. I liked Sarah’s story better than Eden’s, but both were compelling. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 5).

The Inimitable Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse
Bertie Wooster and his friends are in all kinds of trouble (again), romantic and otherwise. Fortunately, Jeeves is always around to save the day. Highly amusing.

Mrs. Tim Gets a Job, D.E. Stevenson
With Tim still in Egypt after WWII has ended, Mrs. Tim takes a job at a Scottish hotel. She deals with difficult guests, her trenchant (but kindhearted) employer and various small problems. Gentle and entertaining.

P.S. Be Eleven, Rita Williams-Garcia
This sequel to One Crazy Summer finds Delphine and her sisters back in Brooklyn and adjusting to all kinds of changes. But Delphine writes to her mother, Cecile, and receives wise (if sometimes cranky) letters back.

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts, Simon Garfield
I love Garfield’s witty nonfiction about various topics, from letters to maps. This exploration of printing and fonts dragged a little, but was still informative and fun.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James, Emma Hooper
83-year-old Etta leaves her home in Saskatchewan, headed for Halifax and the water. Her husband Otto and their lifelong friend, Russell, are left behind, each with their memories. A poignant story of love, war, memory and walking. Reminiscent of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (which I also loved).

The War That Saved My Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ada has lived her life in a one-room flat, hampered by a clubfoot and berated by her mother. But when the children of London are evacuated in 1940, Ada sneaks out to join them and discovers a whole new life. Moving, multilayered and so good. I read it in one night. Recommended by Shelley.

Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer, Heather Lende
As the obituary writer in her small Alaskan town, Heather Lende helps people reflect on their loved ones’ lives. This slim memoir shares anecdotes from Lende’s work and family life, sprinkled with plainspoken wisdom and threaded with a simple truth: find the good. Wise and witty. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 28).

First Frost, Sarah Addison Allen
The Waverley women always get a little restless before the first frost – but this year has them asking big questions about love, career and identity. A sweet story with a little bite, laced with Allen’s gentle magical realism.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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hibernation books

Ruin and Rising, Leigh Bardugo
This conclusion to Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy finds her main characters on the run, searching for a secret weapon to use against the Darkling and his forces. Several plot twists I didn’t see coming; lots of heartbreak; some sweet romantic moments. Really enjoyable, like the others in the series.

Falling in Honey: How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My Heart, Jennifer Barclay
Barclay has loved Greece since her backpacking student days, but after a bad breakup, she spends a month on the tiny island of Tilos. The friendly people, delicious food and gorgeous views sustain her through more romantic ups and downs. I got tired of the dating play-by-play, but the descriptions of Tilos made me want to hop a plane immediately.

The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, Susan Elia MacNeal
In November 1941, SOE agent Maggie Hope is hiding out in western Scotland, training new recruits and healing from a disastrous mission to Berlin. When her dear friend falls ill under suspicious circumstances, Maggie takes up the case. Meanwhile, U.S. and British relations with Japan grow increasingly strained. Fast-paced and fascinating – a solid entry in the series.

In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey, Samuel Fromartz
Fromartz, a longtime home baker, delves into the science and technique of bread baking, traveling to France, Germany and all over the U.S. to learn about baguettes, rye, sourdough and many varieties of flour. I liked the baking anecdotes better than the discussions of fermentation, but Fromartz blends them together engagingly. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 4).

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, Bernie Su & Kate Rorick
Based on the popular YouTube series, this retelling of Pride & Prejudice is ultra-modern (set in California; Bing Lee is a Harvard-educated zillionaire) and seriously fun. Lizzie’s voice is sharp, clever and hilariously snarky. I’m now watching (and loving) the web series.

Lizzy & Jane, Katherine Reay
Elizabeth Hughes has achieved modest fame as a New York chef, rarely visiting her family in Seattle. When a cooking slump coincides with her sister’s chemo treatment, Lizzy reluctantly heads home. An interesting take on Austen (Lizzy and Jane are quite different from the Bennet sisters); a lovely novel of food, family and new beginnings. (I also loved Reay’s debut, Dear Mr. Knightley.) Anne generously sent me her advance copy. To review for Shelf Awareness (pub date Oct. 28).

Mrs. Pollifax and the Lion Killer, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax heads to a fictional African country with a few characters from her previous adventure, and finds a rash of deaths caused by a mysterious killer. Not the best in the series, but I love Mrs. P.

Bunny Buddhism: Hopping Along the Path to Enlightenment, Krista Lester
This was an impulse buy at the Booksmith. It’s a compilation of tweets by Lester on bunniness, Buddhism and living (and hopping) on purpose. Utterly charming and so much fun, especially if you love bunnies (I do).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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the bookstore lenox ma

For Once in My Life, Marianne Kavanagh
Tess and George are soul mates – but they’ve never met. As their friends try to set them up and life pulls them in different directions, they both wonder if they’ll ever find true love. Fun concept, so-so execution. An accurate but depressing portrait of feeling aimless in your 20s.

The Great Greene Heist, Varian Johnson
This book became an emblem of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. But it’s also a fun, fast-paced heist story featuring an entertaining cast of middle schoolers. Reminded me of Ally Carter’s Heist Society series, or Ocean’s 11 for teens.

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
Marie-Laure is a blind Parisian girl living with her father, the keeper of the keys at the Natural History Museum. Werner Pfennig is a private in Hitler’s Wehrmacht, obsessed with (and good at fixing) radios. Told in alternating short chapters of stunning prose, this novel traces Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s stories until they intersect in August 1944, in the walled French city of Saint-Malo. Gorgeous, heartbreaking, full of tension and small moments of hope.

Mambo in Chinatown, Jean Kwok
I loved Kwok’s Girl in Translation and loved her second novel even more. Charlie Wong struggles to care for her younger sister while keeping her new job at a dance studio a secret from their strict father. A beautiful novel about family, tough choices, being caught between cultures, and becoming someone you never thought you could be. Gorgeous and highly recommended.

Saving Lucas Biggs, Marisa de los Santos & David Teague
I love de los Santos’ adult fiction. This middle-grade time-travel novel (co-written by de los Santos and her husband) follows the fortunes of a small Arizona mining town. Margaret O’Malley travels back to 1938, attempting to change the life of the judge who has sentenced her father to death. A sweet, thoughtful and moving story.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami
I’m not a runner, but I’ve been curious about this book for years. The parts about writing (and running in Cambridge) were far more interesting to me than the running chronology.

Mrs. Pollifax Pursued, Dorothy Gilman
After finding a teenage girl hiding in her storage closet, Mrs. Pollifax calls in her CIA connection to go undercover – to a traveling carnival. A slightly wacky plotline even for this series, but as always, Mrs. P saves the day.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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