Review: A Passage to India, a classic just right for today

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My Interest

Never mind that I chose to finally read it because it is a classic. It is as much about today as it is about early 20th Century India. For minorities, even when they are the true majority in a country, real justice is often hard come-by. The British rule over India enforced a Western sense of order, justice, and manners and morality. But was that justice as fair to one group as to the British themselves? This is a very timely topic. In the United States, justice for Blacks has always been a problem, though as a nation we pride ourselves on an independent judiciary.  Reading Passage to India, if you substitute an American location, Passage to Indiana if you will, could as well be written about a white American woman and a Black American or Mexcian-American man. No difference.

The Story

“The issues Miss Quested had raised were so much more important than she was herself that people inevitably forgot her.”

“God who saves the King will surely support the police.”

A trip in a mixed (English and Indian) group to the Maranbar Caves has newly-arrived Miss Adela Quested sure she has been molested by the Indian host, Dr. Aziz. The Echo. The subsequent arrest and trial of Aziz bring out the worst in the rulers. The plotting, obfuscation, and outright lying would be right at home today in any court in the U.S.A. not trying the rape case of a top white, wealthy, collegiate swimmer. Miss Quested is treated like an imbecile (also still common today in rape cases anywhere in the world). But the predictable does not end predictably. In this case, justice prevails, but only in court. Aziz must remake his life elsewhere. Miss Quested returns home never to venture out of the UK again. Damages? A civil suit? No, no, no, move on, nothing to see here. The more things change the more they stay the same, eh?

My Thoughts

“The conversation had become unreal since Christianity had entered it. Ronny approved of religion as long as it endorsed the National Anthem, but he objected when it attempted to influence his life.”

“Ronny’s religion was of the sterilized Public School brand, which never goes bad, even in the tropics. Wherever he entered, mosque, cave or temple, he retained the spiritual outlook of the fifth form, and condemned as ‘weakening’ any attempt to understand them.”

First of all, I had a problem keeping two Ronnies straight. Ronnie Heaslop, the City Magistrate and putative fiancee of Miss Quested and the other Ronnie of the Raj–Ronnie Merrick of Jewel in the Crown–a story that also involves “fraternization” between a British woman and an Indian man, and which I enjoyed more, likely because I read it pre-cell phone attention span. I loved the miniseries, too, but then, back in the 80’s I loved the movie of Passage to India, too.

This book reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird even though it predates TKAMB by many years. The vivid portrayal of racism, the proceedings in court, the emotions generated. All were very much alike, only set in different countries and cultures.

Confession: I was not expecting an Indian voice to narrate the audio! #WhitePrivilege strikes again.

Note: This book was published in the 1920s. There are racial slurs in use at the time in this book that would not be used today. I think there were two such instances. Do not let that stop you from reading this impressive work that deserves its reputation as a classic.

My Verdict

4.5

 

Review: The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

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The Story

Aging artist, Julian, starts the journey of a green exercise book he titles “The Authenticity Project,” by writing his own “authentic” story of his current life and leaves it in a local cafe. It travels a bit, in the neighborhood, and much farther, and is sometimes helped along on its journey by the latest author. Some well-intentioned ‘social engineering’ takes place by those who have read the entries and easily identify the author’s who have signed their work and are in the neighborhood of the cafe. But is all the authenticity really authentic?

My Thoughts

This is a sweet, fun book, that makes you wish you lived in that neighborhood! I especially liked the story of the Instagram Mommy-Influencer and that of Julian’s late wife. This is a perfect poolside read or a behind-your-mask [PLEASE] beach read.

My Verdict

3.0

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

P.S.

I’d like Rod Stewart! to play Julian in the movie.

Classics Club Spin #23: Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy

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#ccspin

The Classics Club helps make reading the classics more fun! What is a Spin? Read all the fun details here. In April we made our lists, the wheel was spun, and we were told to read number 6 by June 1st. You can read my list here. Number 6 was a kindle bargain book I got a while back–The Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy, whose Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, I read too early in my life, in the literature of self-discovery–my freshman lit/writing class first semester in the Fall of 1980. The world was very different then–Ronald Regan was about to become president. Fast-forward more years than I like to say and I read and loved her novel, The Group. I’ve always planned to read her backlist, so this is my start at that goal.

 

The Story

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The Story

Imagine teaching today at a very liberal Liberal Arts college and proclaiming your affiliation with Donald Trump? But not really–just saying you loved him. There you have the premise of this novel set in progressive Jocelyn College during the McCarthy era. Published in 1952, during the reign of Senator Joseph McCarthy, this novel has stood the test of time fairly well. In a few ways–too well.

The book opens with Henry Mulchay, an instructor who was

“…he was intermittently aware of a quality of personal unattractiveness that emanated from him like a miasma;” [Kindle location 57]

reading a letter telling of his position not being renewed. The book then showcases the machinations of Mulchay and other members of his department in concocting a narrative around the letter, including Henry’s outing himself as the Communist he never was.

McCarthy, described once as

“...earnest, and empty Liberal with no sense of how complicated it is to be human.” (Leslie A.Fiedler)

wrote this book following her own experience at progressive Bard College and another college, so it sparkles with subtle wit, making fun of the academic life and its many trivialities. Like many who have read and reviewed this book, I found the little things to be hilarious. That colleges nearly 70 years on are still debating stuff like:

whether, for example, students in the dining hall, when surrendering their plates to the waiters, should pass them to the right or to the left…at an all-college meeting…compulsory for all...”[ Kindle location 780]

Another superb example was whether it is acceptable to drop the Latin diploma. Honestly, this stuff is still going on!

Many reviewers have loved the poetry conference–the ultimate send-up of academic pretensions. The will of the participants in ignoring the time-table, the egos that must be accommodated, the manners, the utter ridiculousness of the program–it is all there, beautifully written. I’ve helped with academic conferences. She nailed it, believe me.

“He had a style of old-fashioned, elaborate compliment, in which there could be detected the flourishes of an antique penmanship and the scratching for a bookkeeper’s quill.” [Kindle location 3224]

My Thoughts

My first impression was: “Wow! They had it good back then!” Instructor Henry Mulchay (“the only Ph.d in the Literature Department,” but only an “instructor” still) complains:

“How was he expected to take care of forty students if other demands on his attention were continually being put in the way?”

Only forty? What, per class? lol. The golden days of University life!

“Hen” as Mulchay is known, then goes on to speak suggestively, and in private, to a female student to whom he is “tutor” [in the Oxbridge sense of the word]! With that, the story instantly seemed to make sense to my #metoo era academic’s brain!

There were oh, so, many familiar things here! Suggestions of work being done for students to get them a diploma and get them out of someone’s hair–very today. The unforeseen idiotic comment that loses the college a huge donation from a “liberal lady.” The backbiting, in-fighting, turf-protecting, knowledge-siloing–all still there today. And, no tenure either–at least at schools without a union. All for the equivalent of Hen’s precious $3200 a year–and Hen the only Ph.D. in the department yet an instructor–not a professor. How prescient.

My Verdict

I enjoyed this book as you can see. I still think The Group offers more to the general reader. So much of what was funny in Groves of Academe was funny to me because I’ve worked in two Universities. Some of that would not be as funny to someone looking in from outside.

4.0

The Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy

 

For other fictional and funny, looks at Academic life read

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Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. My review is here.

 

 

 

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Changing Places by David Lodge.  My mini-review is here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: The Guest List: A Novel by Lucy Foley

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My Interest

Reece Witherspoon’s Book Club is reading  The Guest List this month,  so I decided to join them. She has announced a second,  topical pick for this month, I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown, which I bought for Kindle but have not started reading yet.

The Story

High-powered London online magazine creator and social media influencer Jules, is set to marry her perfect man–t.v. survival show hottie, Will. Jule’s secures a tiny island over Ireland for a new-to-the-world wedding venue. The dress is perfect, the venue is perfect, but, is the perfect man, really…perfect? A note slipped into her things tells her he’s not the man he appears to be. Should she worry?

Will is attended by a pack of posh Public school [private boarding school in England] mates all still pretty obsessed with the juvenile antics of their school–especially a sort of torture game called “Survival.” Secrets abound about their time at school, their Stag Party trip to another deserted island, this time off Sweden. What happened at the Stag, does it really have to stay on the Stag?

Then there is Hannah, wife of Jules’ “best friend”–yes, she’s so ultra-cool she has a married guy with a child as her bff. Jule’s need of Charlie leaves his wife mostly abandoned. So why is Hannah so drawn to Jule’s half-sister?

My Thoughts

This story rockets to a fireworks show of an ending! It is perfectly paced, the chapters are just enough, but never bog the story down in one of the bogs surrounding the wedding venue, aka The Folly. The last third of the story had my heart racing–I could not put it down till I got to the very end.

My Verdict

4.0

I will definitely go back and read her previous book The Hunting Party and maybe a few of her other backlist titles. The Guest List was compelling, I really hope they live up to it.

The Guest List: A Novel by Lucy Foley

 

 

My Reviews of Other Hello Sunshine Book Club picks:

 

 

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

 

 

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Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

 

 

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Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

 

 

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Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

 

 

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

 

 

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Review: The Pioneers by David McCullough

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My Interest

I’ve said before that David McCullough is a secret crush of mine! His history is so….readable! This book introduced me to where I live now. I had 4th-grade state history in Illinois, my kids had it Indiana, but we live in Ohio. Now I can pronounce Scioto County properly, too!

The Story and My Thoughts

“Ohio Fever!” was a thing. No, really. Back when the Northwest Territory opened up to settlers, Ohio was the wild west, the frontier, a land of forests and….Native Americans. Yes, we, the white settlers ran them out of their own home. No one is proud of that today. In spite of that (and I’m not joking, that is a blotch on our history) this book tells the story of the settlement of the part of the very young United States that became the state of Ohio.

There were horrible battles with the Native Americans, who among other ways of seeking revenge, killed everything edible that they could find. In time though, wildlife emerged again and settlers kept at it. I can’t say I blame them. If someone stole my land…. The town of Marietta is the focus of much of the story as are Rufus Putnam and Manasseh Cutler. Those names appear throughout the book. Saly, a place called Cincinnati soon eclipsed Marietta and does so to this day.

What impressed me most, given today’s world, was the desire to keep slavery out of the new territory, and the desire to start a public school system almost from the start of the settlement. Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio, was founded in 1804. I am privileged to have one of its graduates as my boss!

I was impressed that I listened to this book during the pandemic and it gave an account of an influenza epidemic,  or perhaps it was bilious fever, in the early years of the settlement. The doctor, who had hundreds of cases, refused payment. Imagine! Read here about Ohio’s first Rock Star Doctor.

I was also pleased to hear more about Circleville and that area–I went to Boone, North Carolina to inspect Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes with a wonderful group from Ashville, Ohio–near Circleville.

This was a VERY engaging story to me, but I can understand why some reviewers weren’t as happy with it. The title suggests much more than Marietta, Ohio. I wonder though if that wasn’t a Marketing Department decision rather than the authors.

My Verdict

4.0

A wonderful story as always for David McCullough. I’ve read nearly all of his books. None disappoints.

The Pioneers by David McCullough

 

Other books I’ve reviewed by this author:

 

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The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough. My Review.

 

 

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The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. My Review.

 

 

I highly recommend ANY of his books!

Review: Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

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My Interest

A pandemic book to read during a pandemic? Sure! Thanks, too, to The Bookish Libra for reminding me of this one.

 

The Story

In 1918 the Bright family moves from the farm into Philadelphia for the father to take over his uncle’s funeral home. The three young daughters and their mother tell the story in alternating chapters. Young love, school friends, the work of the funeral home–all of it comes to a stop when the Spanish Influenza hits the city.  It is hard to write more specifics about the story without giving spoilers. When daughter Maggie finds a baby a house with his dead mother, she takes the little boy home, conveniently hiding the fact that his sister was still alive.

Through much of the next decade, we see the girls grow up and change and put the Influenza behind them as best they can. Until….[No Spoilers]

My Thoughts

This was a good story–it started out strong with the move to Philadelphia and the [no spoilers] events of the Influenza and the end of World War I. I didn’t want to put it down. But, just like with her book The Last Year of the War, the second half was just not as good. The story just seemed to become silly–embarrassingly silly.  I felt, not for the first time recently, that a stronger editor could have helped. Susan Meissner is a best-selling author, I’m not sure if any editor today can risk standing up to someone who sells that many books, but they should. The ending seemed “phoned in” without too much thought. I felt the characters deserved a better ending than they were given. I can’t have been the only one who muttered “Oh, brother!” on occasion. Meissner is a better writer than this and should up her game and get over this problem.

 

My Verdict

3 Stars

Review: Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters by Jennifer Chiaverini

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I was given a copy of this book on Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

My Interest

Lexington, Kentucky, is a wonderful city. The history goes back to the time when Kentucky was part of Virginia. The elite has long taken pride in the heritage. The Todds of Lexington were a big part of that heritage. Mary Todd Lincoln was one of her father Robert Smith Todd’s 16 children by two wives. Mary was a child of the first wife. Like Eleanor Roosevelt, many years later, Mary was raised in a political family, was well-educated, and expected to converse knowledgeably at the table.

Sadly, as most Americans know, Mary Todd Lincoln suffered from what today is known as Bipolar Disorder and migraines. She lost her second and third sons when they were young children. Worst of all, she was, of course, beside her husband when he was shot at Ford’s Theater.

Finally, I so enjoyed Jennifer Chiaverini’s earlier Mary Lincoln book, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, that I was very happy to get to read and review this new book about Mrs. Lincoln.

The Story

Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters tells her story before and after the White House. Beginning when she was a little girl, not long before her mother’s death, the book alternates between childhood and 1875-1876 at the time of Robert Lincoln’s controversial decision to have his mother committed to a mental institution in Bellvue, Illinois. Through the story we see the development of the woman famously called “The Hellcat” by her husband’s private secretaries.

Mary, Elizabeth, Frances, Ann, Emilie (“Little Sister”) remained close throughout their long lives. All were born daughters of extreme privilege and all married well–the goal of women in that time. Emilie, famously, was the wife of a Confederate officer who had turned down a commission in the Union Army offered by his brother-in-law. Mary had hoped Emilie would live with them in the White House.

In the 1870s chapters, we see just what a struggle it was for the sisters to deal with their famous sister–especially when a meddling journalist becomes Mary’s mouthpiece giving an alternate opinion of the condition of Mrs. Lincoln in opposition to that of Robert Lincoln. Elizabeth Edwards, especially, was put on the spot in this situation.

Whether Mary was truly mentally ill enough to require commitment or whether she could have lived safely with a caregiver is not answered. Robert Lincoln, later Secretary of War and Ambassador to Britain, would be taken to task for the rest of his life for his “treatment” of his mother.

My Thoughts

This is a good and engaging novel, but to me it lacked the spark of her earlier book, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. Too often, especially in the pre-White House chapters, I felt I was reading sections of history books strung together. The 1870s chapters were far more readable as were the later-in-time chapters after Mary and Lincoln were married.

My Verdict

3.5

 

Also by Jennifer Chaverini

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I was enthralled by Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker! Elizabeth Keckly deserves a place of prominence in Civil War-era history and beyond. Mary Todd Lincoln’s mental illness is portrayed respectfully and accurately here. Mrs. Keckly’s ability to cope with “The Hellcat” as President Lincoln’s aides termed the First Lady, let alone her ability as a designer and seamstress, was vividly portrayed here.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chaverini

 

 

Review: House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

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My Interest

I had three good reasons for picking this book.

  1. Daphne Du Maurier Reading Week,  May 11–17, 2020
  2. I’m reading DuMaurier’s full list of books
  3. This had a new drug–reminding me of the search for a COVID vax today

 

The Story

 

“The trouble is that day-dreams, like hallucinogenic drugs, become addictive; the more we indulge, the deeper we plunge….”

 

Dick has just left his publishing job and is at a loose-end. His best friend from clear back to their boarding school days is a Professor and has discovered a new drug. Will Dick try it out? His good buddy also loans him his house in Cornwall for the family vacation. Dick goes down alone before the stepsons get out of boarding school for the summer and while the wife is still away in the States. He takes the drug and discovers he can travel back in time in the same geographical location.

Best of all, it has a deliciously Du Maurier ending!

My Thoughts

Time travel is not usually my thing. I got through Outlander, but that’s about it. However, this being a Du Maurier book was done right. It wasn’t hokey. I enjoyed the time travel sections of the book a lot.

It was the  1960s part of the story that gave me pause. Had I not known who the author was, I’d have thought this was written by a man. In today’s terms, was Daphne Du Maurier a misogynist? Or did she just do a brilliant job of writing the character of a man over the romantic portion of his marriage?

“She had a new hairdo, more wave in it, or something; it looked all right but made her face too full.”

“Vita was a moderate drinker as a general rule, but when she had had one too many I found her embarrassing. Her voice took on a strident tone, or alternatively turned silky sweet.”

“The towel, wrapped turban-fashion around her head, and the mask of [cold] cream gave her a clown-like appearance, and suddenly I felt revolted by this puppet world in which I found myself, and desired no part of it, not now, nor tomorrow, nor at any time. I wanted to vomit…I went through the bathroom to the dressing room and she followed me, they silly shift she wore in bed flouncing round her knees, grotesquely ill-suited to the turban; and it struck me for the first time that the varnish on her fingernails made her hands look like claws.”

See what I mean? I’ll give you a woman with cold cream on her face and a towel around her head isn’t a picture of beauty. Still.

I also passed on the bizarre introduction to this edition which, when I briefly scanned it, mentioned three meanings for “Dick”–the man’s name. Oy!

My Verdict

This was a “good” book. Du Maurier tended to write “great” books. Two of hers rate a full 5 stars on my scale. I almost never rate a book that high.

4.0

 

House on the Strand by Daphne Du Maurier

 

I read this for Daphne Du Maurier Reading Week,  May 11–17, 2020, but got distracted and finished too late!

 

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Plot holes or an Improbable Plot: One book I loved anyway, one I did not

 

Earlier this week, I reviewed The Jane Austen Society, a new novel that I enjoyed, but found troubling for its lack of attention to historical facts and speech and manners of the time of the story’s setting. Today I’m looking back at two other books that had such problems–one I still liked very much, the other I did not but did manage to finish.

First The One I Loved Anyway

 

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Here is a slightly edited version of my review–I read the book when it came out.

This book is BEAUTIFULLY written, the characters are REAL and VIVID as is the life they lead. The emotions conveyed are real, too–at least to me. I understand them. I was a bit dumbfounded that the author has a Scot question just how a man can fight in a kilt! What else have they EVER fought in?? That was the only silly thing.

The problem I had with the book was how a young MARRIED woman on the tiny Isle of Skye manages to avoid gossip in her small town when she’s receiving letters from an American MAN in 1912. And that the author manages to almost not mention that she is actually married to a living man for quite some time into the story. But that she blatantly goes off to cheat on her husband while he’s in the trenches of World War I doesn’t stir up gossip on the Island of Skye is downright amazing.

I CAN accept a woman in 1912 questioning if motherhood is the only path or that women were specially made to be mothers, but that letter seemed written to pass the political correctness test–as did the mention of someone referring to a man as a “pansy.”

In spite of this, the prose is lovely, the characters are real and the scenes are all well developed. I enjoyed it a lot.

 

The One I JUST COULDN’T

 

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There was just oh so much wrong with this book. You could even start with the title! Here’s an edited version of my review that points out all that was wrong with this mess of a book. Where was the editor?

This book told thru letters and diaries and was favorably compared to the Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Club: A Novel –which still baffles me. I imagine the fact that both are set in World War II and both are in the United Kingdom (or at least WERE in the United Kingdom before the Nazi’s invaded in the case of the excellent Gurnsey book) and that both employ an epistolary narrative must have been enough for the intern charged with writing the blurb on the back of the book. I expected to love this book. I did like certain moments of it, but found it just too much of an improbable mess of storylines to be lovable.

The Story:

The beginning of the book is all about the trauma of the choir being disbanded by the vicar due to a lack of men left on the home front to sing. This is promptly forgotten except for occasional mentions of the choir here and there until the last chapter. I never really understood how they were supposed to be this uplifting thing, let alone the focus of the story.  Sadly, this is where most reviewers must have stopped reading.

The characters are mostly stereotypes. The matron with the double-barrelled name and the son in the RAF. The Brigadier’s down-trodden wife, who is magically pregnant right as their 20-year-old only son is killed. Their gorgeous debutante-aged daughter, their younger daughter, and a still younger Jewish refugee foster-daughter round out the family.

Everyone from his silly wife to the villagers is of course afraid of him. He carries a crop. Of course he does. Apparently, though, the author has never heard that a “horse whip” (as she calls it) of the kind stereotypical British Brigadiers go around thwacking against a thigh or a lover’s bottom is known as a  “crop.”  Surprisingly he doesn’t have a Labrador. Must have scared the poor thing off. Anyway, this man is silenced by a lady who previously would have cowered in a dark doorway to let him pass. Such is the magic imparted by a good cuppa and an air raid or two.

Then there’s the amazingly modern P.C. elements. The first patient treated from the Dunkirk evacuation is, wait for it…. openly gay (at least he is open about it with the helpful nurse) and, at a time when men went to prison for being gay,  he trusts a total stranger to return his male lover’s ring–and she does it. I’m fully aware that not everyone thought this should be illegal  (nor should it be)–it is just so typical of the immature storylines here. Then the silly young man outs a spy to her! He’s working FOR the spy’s headquarters. You’d think the Brigadier would be right there to beat him with his crop or blast him with his Purdys but no! Plus a spy, working for the same outfit, tells female his lover his secrets! Good grief.

Then there’s the flouncing out being done to epic levels by the double-barrelled matron’s RAF pilot-officer son when he, too, is done wrong! Epic. But wait! There’s more! He gets to flounce in a letter to the maid he’s just used to get over the debutante who did him wrong. Are you following all of this? But, its about the choir, Silly! Remember the choir? I don’t.

 

The Good:

Not much. I suppose I liked a few of the people. Mrs. Tilling and her lodger, Colonel Mallard (spellings may be off since I listened to the book). Baby Rose seemed sweet. Sylvie, the little refugee girl. Tom, the London boy out hop-picking and maybe someone else. I’m too exhausted trying to keep them all straight. Baby Lawrence was obviously crying because he couldn’t cope with it all–and him part of the most ridiculous storyline of them all. Poor lad. Not even a Labrador to snuggle.

The Bad:

The story is such a mess of intrigue, plotting, and boredom that I had trouble keeping everyone straight. The whole thing makes Downton Abbey’s Bates mess seem trifling. Someone–the younger daughter? The refugee girl? Says, just before the retreat to Dunkirk occurs, something like “at least we have got all routes covered” [“we” is the nearly doomed British Army].  Very prescient. Very wrong, too.  Lots of stuff like that. “It’s officially now ‘The Battle of Britain’,” is actually said out loud. Yes. That kind of thing. Praise for Churchill, but no memory of all the upper-class twits who were British Fascists and appeasers and loathed him and were still leery of him in 1940.

Rating:

2 stars

Do you have any books like this? Plot holes, historical errors, etc, but you still liked them? Leave me a comment or a link to your own post.

Review: Dear Committee Members: A Novel by Julie Schumacher

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My Interest

In real life I work for the adult education side of a small liberal arts college in the Midwest [That’s “red state,” “fly-over country,” “Trump land” or “The Heartland” to anyone in L.A. or NYC]. I’ve loved reading the screeds against the bloat of Administration since the COVID-crisis sent even Yalies home to Zoom lessons. Happily, I’m insignificant, too distant from the mothership yada, yada,  yada to be stuck in faculty committees. Nevertheless, I knew I’d love this book. You see, in addition to addressing all of my 40- hour week, it is told in a series of letters. I love epistolary novels!

Though written six years ago, before the onslaught of preferred pronouns, emotional support Iguanas and memos advising students on the hurtfulness of Halloween costumes, how much more “today” can you get than that “…he is currently writing a one-act play about a serial killer/scientist who saves humankind from a world-ending virus by discovering a method of harvesting corpses to create a vaccine” (I’m joking, of course).

The Story

“…the writing life which despite its horrors, is possibly one of the few sorts of lives worth living at all.”

English Professor Jason Fitger has stood by and watch Payne University hack away at the liberal arts while building a temple of all-but-gold for the Economics Department. He goes through his days not doing the research he should do, but due to budget cuts for research and travel to all but those job-aligned departments, writing Letters of Recommendation {LORs] for students, faculty, and administrators. As he writes he inserts his own story, his own opinions, and very pithy observations about the College, it’s bloated administration, the ridiculously unprepared students, and the rest of it.  Once a “Sage on the Stage,” he is now the “Sage on the Page” all the more so because he despises email and those resume-reading application websites that call for quantitative analysis instead of a proper letter of recommendation.

My favorite of the letters includes this passage in a LOR for a former student applying to a Lutheran Seminary:

“…Episcopalian as a child, largely because my mother believed Episcopal women dressed better than Catholics….my [ex-]wife….entertained …visions of the two of us joining a congregation of  Unitarians. Unfortunately to my spiritually untutored mind,  the contemplation of the infinite and the cultivation of virtue required the dignity of robes and incense….”

If you’ve just endured quarantine with a college student-child or are enduring virtual college tours with your new high school junior-child, this book will make you see why the state college is not going to kill your child or their dreams. It shows even more brilliantly, why ALL Universities are in trouble today.

My Verdict

A Perfect 4.0–send it straight to graduate school!

Dear Committee Members: A Novel by Julie Schumacher is currently the Seattle Time’s “Moira’s Book Club” pick of the month.

Here is NPR’s take on the book when it was first published.

I listened to the audio version.