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Review: Honor: A Novel by Thirty Umrigar

My Interest

I love to read stories set elsewhere–in this case India. I also wish American women could appreciate how amazingly privileged they are! We can dis our men all we want, but most of them do try to help at home, do spend time with the kids, and do appreciate their wives. American women are usually taken seriously when they report rape –even rape in marriage. Battered women in America can generally find help–their plight is taken seriously. We have control, oh sorry! We have “agency” over our lives (that means we have choices we can actually make). That is unheard of in so many places. We in American DO still have freedom of religion, and freedom of speech, in spite of efforts from both sides of the political spectrum to encroach on them.

Last year I had the goal of reading more from Reese Witherspoon’s book club, but mostly struck out. Honor is the pick for January 2022 and I was lucky that my library had the e-audio available with no waiting. I hope this book opens the eyes of so many who think they have it so bad. You haven’t met “bad” until you’ve seen what women go through in many other nations.

The Story

Smita, an unbelievably privileged and woke young journalist living in a fashionable area of NYC (the only place she could thrive–her parent’s Ohio college town just didn’t understand….[Must not have been Yellow Springs, eh Smita?]) agrees to help out a friend stuck in the hospital in India by finishing a series of stories on the treatment of a young woman, Meea, who marries out of her faith.

“Nobody taught us what I know today – the most dangerous animal in this world is a man with wounded pride.”

Her brothers, to defend the family’s honor (a concept we in America have largely decided can slide) have burned down the hovel in which Meena and her husband were sleeping. The husband is killed, Meena, though disfigured and somewhat disabled lives and gives birth to their daughter.

“Because a woman can live in one of two houses—fear or love. It is impossible to live in both at the same time.”

A big city women’s advocate gets Mina to go to court and try to have her brothers found guilty of murder. If you think American justice is screwed up, you ain’t seen nothing till you’ve stepped into a court room in any former “3rd World” country. (India is a 1st World country in commerce and a 2nd World or 3rd World country in other ways).

But, Mina’s is not the only story to be unraveled. Smita, too, has quiet a lot on her mind from her own childhood in India. She left the country at 14 with her family and landed in that stifling college town in (dear god, why?) Ohio. Smita is assisted by Mohan, who was her friend’s ( you remember, the journalist in the hospital?) translated and often necessary male companion. Together they set out to wait for the verdict in Mina’s case. They get to know her, her daughter, and the mother-in-law who both hates Mina and needs her.

The story ends in ways that will leave many American women stunned. (No spoilers).

My Thoughts

The oh-so-woke Smita thankfully gets a huge wake-up call (or should that be a “woke-up” call?) after even telling a woman in India that her “privilege is showing.” Yeah. But Smita redeems herself in more ways than one. Her own story is as gripping as Mina’s (no spoilers). I actually came to like and care about her–which I certainly did not see coming in the early chapters. I liked Mohan and was shocked that his story was not woke in any way. As for Meena, her story was not news to me. But I loved that she considered her time with her husband to be the happiest in her life. She, and the countless women like her, deserve more than just a token few months of happiness.

This is a great book for suburban book clubs and for those who genuinely care about the fate or women and children around the world.

My Verdict

3.75

I couldn’t go all the way to 4 stars because I am sick to literal puking of the seemingly mandatory screed against the most recent ex-president inserted into nearly every contemporary book these days. I am no fan of his AT ALL, but let him be history. We do not need a woke litmus test for publishing that includes a screed against him or anyone else.

Honor: A Novel by Thrity Umrigar

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Japanese Lit Challenge Review # 2: The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

Read all the Japanese Literature Challenge rules and reviews HERE.

My Interest

Pretty obvious, right? Cats, books? What’s not to love? Plus, it is Japanese and this is one of the two months of the Japanese Literature Challenge. Super!

“A book that sits on a shelf is nothing but a bundle of paper. Unless it is opened, a book possessing great power an epic story is a mere scrap of paper. but a book that has been cherished and loved , filled with human thoughts has been endowed with a soul.”  (p. )

The Story

“I rarely encounter a book with a soul nowadays.” (p.187)

Rintaro is a teenage boy who has just lost his grandfather. The grandfather that has raised him. Raised him in his quirky, wonderful second-hand bookstore that even stocks things like Proust. As he is preparing to close the bookshop and move in with an aunt he barely knows a talking cat appears to him and leads him on challenges through three labyrinths, each full of books needing to be rescued.

Each rescue mission tackles a different type of book abuse….

POSSIBLE SPOILERS

“Just as a person’s soul can be warped by suffering, so can the soul of a book. A book that has been in the hands of a person with a twisted soul will also acquire a twisted soul).” (p. 171-172)

There are the book hoarders who just want to own, the dumbing-down and shortening of books by publishers who want a quick profit, the ridiculous over-supply of mediocre, mindless diversion books. Then there is the the lack of appreciation for intellectual rigor and mental fitness that “hard” books provide and the effort to bury such books in the mists of history. Books are no longer written to try to stand the test of time. These are among the tragedies Rintaro must fight against.

“I used to talk about all kinds of important things with all sorts of people, but now I’m starting to forget what I used to talk about.” (p. 188)

My Thoughts

This book reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters in terms of its impact on me. (My son and I listened to the book when he was 14). Someone “gets it.” In our world of vapid celebrity culture, over-scheduled-frantically fragmented families, divide/distract lying politicians of every political stripe, this book gets it.

Just think, it was only a century ago that Jane Addams Hull House and other immigrant settlement houses had DEBATE CLUBS and philosophy lectures for immigrants. Can you even imagine that today? Radio, movies, t.v., the 1930s trite movie magazines that morphed into the People, Us, and Hello (or men’s car and cigar and whatnot) magazines of today are the most reading the majority of people do today.

Those of us who love books, fight for free speech (not just free speech for those with whom we agree), real discussion, and real debate are a minority. So many of today’s books are DNFs [did not finish]. Important books do exist, some do read them, but many more are read in “executive summaries” that cover the “talking points.” This is tragic. Celebrities fighting for “safer social media” are really pulling the wool over followers’ eyes–they want it save for “their truth”–their “narrative,” without criticism. This is wrong. Slander and libel laws dictate what can and cannot be said–not celebrities who want an image at odds with their real life.

This book though–this, like Animal Farm, (or The Screwtape Letters) is perfect to read aloud with late elementary or middle school kids (my 6th grade teacher read us Animal Farm and helped us to discover on our own the parallels to real life–it was not a “unit study” with vocabulary words and model farms are trite intellectual garbage like that). This book will open the eyes of anyone who reads it to the further dumbing down of our society. Newt Minnow called TV a “vast wasteland.” He was right. Today, that is what much of publishing is. Adding in self-publishing to anyone who wants to pay, and we have a sea of intellectual pollution on par with the plastic straws in the ocean tragedy.

My Verdict

4.5

Very highly recommended

The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa, translated by Louise Heal Kawai

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Japanese Literature Challenge #15 Review: Tales From the Cafe by Toshikazu Kawaguchi 2022 Audiobook Challenge Reivew

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Read all the Japanese Literature Challenge rules and reviews HERE.

Read the rules for 2022 Audio Book Challenge HERE or HERE

My Interest

You’re right–this isn’t a normal book for someone who doesn’t claim to like time travel, fantasy or sci-fi, but guess what? Last year I took a chance on Before the Coffee Gets Cold and loved it. Since this is the sequel, and it fits both of the challenges, well, no brainer, right?

The Story

In a certain basement cafe in Tokyo, when a certain patron leaves her table to go to the restroom, it is possible to sit in her chair and go back to a specific point in time. But, among the rules for such a trip are: a) you cannot do anything that will alter the future and, b) you must return before the coffee in that other patron’s cup grows cold. In this installment of the Tales we get a little more insight into how it works to go into the future–an option most people do not seek because of the other rule–the person you go to see in the past or future must visit the care.

This is a book that is very hard to review without spoilers. So, if you are sensitive to such things, consider this a SPOILER WARNING.

Whether it is the man who wants to give his wife a gift because she died at the wrong moment, or the man who wants to ease a friend’s mind about his child or ….Not telling all here–read it.

My Thoughts

It is very helpful to have read Before the Coffee Gets Cold, but I’m pretty sure you could manage this as a stand alone, too. I liked that in this installment we learned more about a few of the people in the cafe. I also loved that the tone was exactly the same in the sequel–it is an oddly comforting tone, especially in the audio versio. The story has sad moments, but nothing horrific or trauma-inducing, which is too rare these days. I liked that the believably is on par with a children’s story beginning “Once upon a time….” I often mention Sarah Addison Allen’s novel The Sugar Queen as an example of fantasy or magical realism that I like. These books are on par with that in terms of magic or fantasy or sci fi or time travel. If there is a third book I will happily read it, too.

Tales From the Cafe by  Toshikazu Kawaguchi

And, thank you to Marina Sofia who pointed out the insensitivity of Western readers who continue to put Japanese names backward. Honestly, I had no idea. Even my former Japanese emigre colleague never pointed out that he had switched his names around. I am not sure if this author’s name is correctly ordered or not. Everything I found showed it the way it is on the cover of the book. Maybe he has to accept that in order to be published and have interviewers in the West call him by the right name? Marina is right, it is pretty awful to do that to people.

4174AJ-RtVL._SY346_     My review of Before The Coffee Gets Cold: A Novel by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

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Review: Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie–my first book finished in 2022

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My Interest

It gets boring to keep saying “I needed an audio,” but that’s the real reason I turned to this one. It had the added bonus of taking care of the annual “short story collection” square on the annual reading bingo card, too.

The Story…or Stories

This is a new collection (2020) of 12 themed stories drawn from the work of Agatha Christie. From them I had 3 favorites:

  • Three Blind Mice, which according to Wikipedia (who can doubt this source lol) is an alternative version of dear Agatha’s forever-running play, Mousetrap. I liked it because the couple who have decided to have paying guests at their newly acquired rambling country home brought to mind the story in Ruth Adam’s wonderful book, A House in the Country.
  • The Coming of Mr. Quin, was such fun because it is set on New Year’s Eve and quite by chance I listened to it on my way to/fro work at the store for a few hours. That (and getting to leave early) made my New Year’s Eve fun.
  • The Plymouth Express, again according to The Agatha Christie Wiki, was enlarged and altered a little to become the novel The Mystery of the Blue Train. I liked the opening–finding a dead body on a train! Imagine! And the twists and turns were so well done. I’m not a big mystery reader so I find my fun with these in other ways. I loved the vivid blue dress, for example and the Robber Baron-ish father.

And one, honorable mention:

  • Christmas Adventure–I just missed listening to this on Christmas Eve, but chose something else instead. The Agatha Christie Wiki tells me it was also titled The Adventures of the Christmas Pudding.  Set on Christmas Eve it features a couple of bored spoiled brats who decide to fake a murder for fun. Kids in drafty, great English country houses at Christmas had too much time on their hands and no hovering helicopter parents to reign them in I guess! The parents are out shooting peasants or playing silly games to notice what their nearly unknown offspring are up to and Nanny is knackered and imbibing the medicine cabinet brandy on the sly. I loved the whole atmosphere of a family house party with some friends, cranky, fed-up servants, and kids who need to go back to boarding school early! No wonder the landed classes believed in so much time out-of-doors–it save their sanity.

My Verdict

I’ve done better with short stories and essays the last few years. This collection was a nice, breezy, thing.

3.0

Midwinter Murder: Fireside Tales from the Queen of Mystery by Agatha Christie

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Book Two by Ellen Cooney. Review: Thanksgiving

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My Interest

As you probably guessed, I intended to read this for the 2021 Thanksgiving holiday. I started, made great progress, got distracted, and…finally finished it as my last book of 2021. Update: Belated thank you to The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog for introducing me to this book. (Sorry this was left out when the post was published). Won’t you click the link and read her thoughts on this book, too?

The Story

Beginning in 1662 and ending in 2012, each chapter (more like a vignette) gets its title from one of the foods associated with the holiday. The first chapter is, of course, “Turkey,” while the last is simply “Dinner”–i.e. the entire meal. Through the course of the book we follow the many generations of the Morely family, their lives, the times they inhabit, the changes, joys, and tragedies of one American family at this one time of year.

My Thoughts

This is a somewhat quirky book, but enjoyable. I liked seeing the way the family changed. I thought that giving the chapters the name of a food was very creative. I liked seeing how our world evolved, how the process of feeding the family changed, and how life got both easier and harder.

This is a great read for the holiday. It’s an excellent book club choice for November, too. Just read it.

My Rating

4.0

Thanksgiving by Ellen Cooney

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Book one of two by Ellen Cooney. Review: The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances: A Novel

My Interest

I put this book on my TBR when it was released. I was, again, hunting for an audio and found it available at my library. It is purely coincidental that I had two books by this author going at the same time–this one in audio and the second, Thanksgiving, on my Kindle. (I’m reviewing Thanksgiving tomorrow).

The Story

Evie answers a job ad to train dogs. Or is it dogs training people? She isn’t sure. Is there a manual? A textbook? Or is she writing one? When the story opens she is stuck down the mountain from the dog sanctuary at an Inn run by a crusty old lady.

Evie’s own past is a bit cloudy, but she seems to have a few things in common with some of the dogs. As does Big George, a kid who helps with rescues. And the dog-treat baking woman and, well, and each of the volunteers who come in and out of the story working with the dogs. And, are there nuns (or ex-nuns) in this book?

And then there are the rescue missions–cloak and dagger operations to save dogs. These made the book have an element of a thriller.

But it is the dogs–their personalities, their friendships, and their pasts, and their play, that make the book so memorable.

My Thoughts

No animal has ever left my home except by a natural death or an unavoidable euthanasia–by “unavoidable” I mean kidneys failing and death being days of misery away. Never out of “inconvenience.”

What caught my eye though was her monologue on adoption. (I’m sorry–it was too long to copy down on the side of the road while listening to the book in the car). You see, I’m a mom through adoption. I love the progress we have made on protecting and saving animals, and admire the people who have made that happen, but people often live 60 to 80 years longer than our pets (some even more than that). I’d love to see the same zeal applied to “rescuing” adoptable children in the world’s foster care programs. That warmed my heart.

This is an interesting book. It is not for everyone. I live out in the country. Pittbulls and others are rescued from fighting out here as well as in the cities. It’s a scourge. I felt genuinely bad for the other dogs (even though this was a novel and they were all fictional) at all the attention given to the arriving “Pitties.” I think there is little hope for former fighting dogs. That’s sad, I know, but had I been in charge, I would likely have had them put down. Too many awful things happen to people–especially children, when exposed to fighting dogs.

Also where I live, Amish farmers and others “farm” popular breeds of dogs–i.e. run puppy mills. I HATE THAT. I hate it with all my heart and soul. Dog fighting and puppy mills are so horrendous–yet we turn a blind eye, just as we do to the abuses to kids in foster care (which have a much greater impact on our world).

Who would enjoy this book? Anyone who is realistic about the world today and the animals in it. There are no “trigger” moments in my opinion (your personal past may make you see it differently, ok?). Things may seem to be heading that way, but they stop short of it. If you enjoy dogs, you will want to meet Hank, Boomer, Tasha, Dapple, and all the others. This is their story and it is a good one. It shows that one person getting involved can make a big difference. We need to be reminded of that every day.

I’m sorry that this is a “dark” review–it is still a good review. The book is well worth it. I listened to the audio version.

My Verdict

3.5

The Mountaintop School for Dogs…and Other Second Chances by Ellen Cooney

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Review: Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith

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My Interest

What could be nice when needing an audio then to find a Dean Street Press’s Furrowed Middlebrow series title available at my library? Nothing, that’s what! I’ve loved each book in this series that I’ve read. This one, if I remember correctly, is the first I’ve found on audio–the rest I’ve bought for Kindle.

The Story

Alison Penny awakes on her 40th birthday not realizing how much her life is about to be disturbed. She has a faithful servant–Ada, a nice, cozy home, a nice, cozy routine of Church, the Women’s Institute, bridge and what-not and the attention of two potential suitors. Stanley, a rather fussy retired bank manager, and Hubert, the local vicar who is a widower with a son, Ronny, who is generally off at his public [private boarding] school. But, what Alison likes best on her birthday is the annual letter from her first love, George.

Soon though, all of this coziness is shattered when Alison “rescues” [stops] a young woman from drowning herself in the local duck pond. Feeling obligated after getting involved, Alison brings the young woman home to recuperate. Little does she realize that this will upset the balance of her life as well as turn the heads of her suitors.

But wait! There’s more! Low and behold she has another visitor (no spoilers). Life then goes into a sort of social hyperventilation aided by the skating pond being frozen solid and an ice skating frenzy seizing the village! What will Miss Penny do? And, what about Miss Plum–the young woman who now seems to never plan to leave? But, oh, dear, Thursday is the WI. (You’ll need to read the book to understand this line). A glass of port, please.

My Thoughts

Aside from gagging at the thought of canned fruit swimming in Carnation evaporated milk (yuck!), I loved this story. Stanley and Hubert, Ronnie’s wonderful take on things, Ada’s forthright opinions (and the picture she painted of a certain corset–no spoilers), Alison wondering why she stepped out of her niche–it was simply wonderful.

Like Miss Penny, I do wonder why it is the Miss Plums of the world–the vapid, helpless little creatures (or the total #itch-women) who get the men following them like they were the Pied Piper. What’s the attraction? Why is a woman who can take care of herself so unattractive to men? Why are such women always called “threatening.” Why do men feel such women do not “need” them? Age old dilemma.

We reach an age–don’t we? An age at which dating is absurd. Except relationships are essential. Life is routine and routine is comforting–until it is stifling. We need the Miss Plums to happen, we need the Ronnies around for the holiday. We need our trees shaken for our own good. This book does that beautifully.

My Verdict

4 stars

Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith is $2.99 for Kindle

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Review: The Mitford Vanishing by Jessica Fellowes

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Thank you to Netgalley for a copy of the audio of this book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

The glamorous Mitford girls, daughters of Lord Redesdale (a first cousin of Clementine Churchill), were “influencers” (in today’s terms) in posh society in 1930’s London.  Unity became one of the first well known stalkers–she was in love with Hitler and stalked him till she got to meet him. Nancy left a Guinness (yes, THAT Guinness family) for Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Fascists, and Jessica was a communist who later wrote exposes on the funeral industry and birth “industry” in the USA among other works.  They fascinate me for another reason, too. The tiny bit of truly “formalized” education any of the girls received (beyond a governess) was thru Charlotte Mason’s Parents Education Union.  I’d love to do some sort of fiction about THAT part of their lives!

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Photo credit (click)
Lord and Lady Redesdale with their six daughters and son, Tom, in 1928.

The author, Jessica Fellowes, is niece of Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey. So, she’s not likely to make a hash of titles or forms of address, now is she?

The Story

1937–the Coronation of the new King George VI looms, war rages in Spain and the 5 of Lord Redesdale’s six daughters has vanished! Former Mitford family nursery maid, Louisa Cannon, now a private investigator with her husband (a former police detective) is called upon to discreetly find her! Younger sister Deborah’s (aka “Debo” later Duchess of Devonshire and one time sister-in-law of Kick Kennedy) debutante season and marriage prospects are potentially to be diminished by the possible scandal! (Someone pass the smelling salts! And, please, sweet tea and Sherry!) Meanwhile, two very ordinary women have disappeared–is there a link? Louisa and husband, Guy, must find out.

The story is based on the real life “disappearance” of Jessica, aka “Decca” Mitford when she ran off with some-degree-of-cousin-disant-enough-to-marry, Esmond Romilly–a nephew of Clementine Churchill. Married while already expecting the couple’s first child–who would die from lack of a measles shot. Esmond died in World War II. Esmond and Jessica were some of the few young people who were truly committed to the Communist cause in 1930s, in spite of the many who claimed it.

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The Hon. Jessica (“Decca”) Mitford and husband, Mr. Esmond Romilly.  Photo: TIme-Life.

My Thoughts

I think this entire series is already on my TBR, but I wish I hadn’t waited so long to jump into it. It’s pretty well done for a who-done-it series! (I’ve posted about it before in this post). It’s hard to write about mysteries without giving away the whole story. I liked the way the Mitford family is fictionalized–they are believable here. I also like the way Louisa has come into her own in the series–that’s a great touch. That the topic of the “side” murders is something women today can relate too–i.e. a 1930’s #metoo moment and battered wives, is ok with me. It’s handled in the terms of the era of the story–nothing too modern occurs. And, one thing that happened I don’t think Agatha Christie would have considered! That was a great idea [No spoilers].

I will definitely go back and start at the beginning–a rare compliment from me, previously given only to Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series!

Note to the editor of this book: It was called a “receiver,” not a “hand set.” Gosh, will this mistake never end? “Hand set” entered the language with cordless phones. And, an “invisibility cloak”? It was just used to describe something, but please…. Tiny things, but ….

My Verdict

4 Stars

(or should that be four peer’s coronets?)

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20 Books of Christmas Review #10: The Matzah Ball: A Novel by Jean Meltzer

My Interest

A Hanukkah -Christmas book? Sure! I spent the last few years of college enjoying the celebration of most Jewish holidays with a friend, her husband, and her parents. Her mother adopted me and bought me groceries when she shopped for her wonderful son-in-law, the scholar! LOL. I’ve eaten matzo cubes–because round matzo balls are too ordinary. I became a lifelong latkes addict and make them most years. Plus my great aunt and her second husband ran a summer camp in northern Wisconsin that provided a de-stressing time for high-pressure Jewish kids from Chicago’s suburbs in the late 50’s and 60’s (much like the camp Rachael and Jacob attended in the book). My kids and I have lox and bagels for Christmas breakfast. And, so what if Hanukkah ended last week–it’s all good. So yeah, bring on the Christmas-Hanukkah book!

The Story

Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is the daughter of a world famous Rabbi and a doctor. So why, oh why, did she become a best-selling author of Christmas novels? And why, oh why, doesn’t she ever get the happily ever after that she writes in her books. Enter party planning mogul Jacob Greenberg, her long-ago summer camp nemesis and first kiss recipient. When Rachel’s publisher decides it’s time for a change–a Hanukkah Romance to compete with the Christmas romances, she finds herself needing Jacob’s upcoming Matzah Ball, a live-music, glam and glitz, celebration for the nights of Hanukkah for her research. But that’s when things start to go awry as opposed to “on rye.” A ten-foot tall menorah, pink fuzzy socks, a baseball mascot-cum Matzah Ball costume, a sweet and wise Bubbe, the now seemingly obligatory gay guy bestie, and more go into the story.

My Thoughts

This book was so much fun! Yes, I did wonder why her folks didn’t just say “and an ticket for Rachel, too?” when the tickets were handed out for the great night of the Matzah Ball, but heck, what fun would that be? Rachel and Jacob are a matchmaker’s dream couple. They complete each other. They each make the other better. I loved this. I loved the rather Trump-like investor too! LOL Fun without bringing politics into it.

This book was just plain fun. Pick up some jelly doughnuts or rugelach or even chicken soup with matzo balls and just nosh away while you read or listen. You won’t be sorry.

One small note to the editor of this book. How could you allow the phrase “her truth” to be used in a story line about a Holocaust survivor? Unthinkable. Trendy isn’t always best. Still, I loved the book.

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Review: A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell

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My Interest

I had intended this memoir as my nonfiction work for Novellas in November, as well as for Nonfiction November. But, life got in the way and I missed the deadline. At 254 pages it was just a touch too long for #NovNov, but it still read like a Novella so that’s that. Plus, first hand account of the Blitz are always fascinating and this one was well worth the extra pages.

The Story

The Blitz was providing something besides bombs. It was making people talk to one another.” (p. 102)

Olivia Faviell Lucas, the real name of author Francis Faviell, traveled the world between the wars. At the time of this memoir, she was about to be married to Richard Parker, a Civil Servant. She lived in Chelsea right by the Royal Hospital, with her little dachshund, Vicki, and earned her living as a painter having trained at the Slade School. The story begin as the war is starting. Frances is a volunteer in the first aid and fire services. Her work takes her into the inferno of dropping incendiaries and other types of bombs in the beginning of the war and the time now known as the Blitz.

In spite of the war, hers is a nice life lived in pleasant surroundings–a home that we would today say was “curated,” that is filled with treasures from her travels including the green glass cat on the cover of the book. His story is told in the beginning of the book. We meet her friends, neighbors, housekeeper, and other residents of her lovely Chelsea neighborhood.

Her work with the wounded and the dead is often very grisly. It is the sort of things we often say “I couldn’t do that” because war has never forced us to try. Due to her language ability, she is called upon to help with a nearby community of Belgian refugees.

The war comes home to Frances while she is expecting her first child–she briefly loses her nerve, then steels herself and gets on with helping the wounded. Like the Queen Mother famously said after Buckingham Palace was bombed, she could look the East end “in the face” so too can Frances look that way at her Belgian refugees.

My Thoughts

“The Blitz was doing something else–it was cotninuing the slow difficult process already begun before the war of breaking down class barriers.” (p. 102)

Being political, my first thought was just WHO was the friend that The Rt Hon Leslie Hore Belisha always going to visit in Chelsea–enabling Frances to have a chat with her friend, a volunteer, who was his driver? lol.

More to the point, I wondered how people kept going. Today would we (Americans) ever agree to rationing? To everyone obeying a neighbor appointed as an air raid or fire warden? Please–we can’t even agree on getting a shot today. We’d fight over it till the end. And, people just kept going. Yes, some had what were then called “nervous breakdowns,” and smoking and drinking were rife, but people kept going. Send our children away? I cannot imagine doing that. I just cannot. Euthanize our pets (as many had to do)? Brutal–yet so many at that time did so for the good of all.

There are so many brave moments in this story it is hard to single out even one. The Belgian woman who is castigated for never going to visit her newborn baby is among the most vivid aside from some of the violence from the bombs (too horrific to discuss). Unmarried, not sure she’ll ever see the father again, in a strange country, very, very ill and yet she is harassed by neighbors and do-gooders to get out of her sickbed and go to the countryside to see her evacuated newborn who wouldn’t know her from Adam. That was truly harsh. So too was the clean, tidy, clergyman who told a woman who’d just lost her husband in violent circumstances to accept it as God’s will and move on. He wasn’t really wrong–she would have to accept it and move on at some point, but his timing was callus even for a world war. And, I was with Frances checking out those manicured hands that had never even dug to plant a vegetable, let alone dug up a human or their remains. Judgy? Yep–war is hell.

I’m off my reviewing game, so I’m not really making this sound anywhere near as interesting and as readable as it was. But it’s another of the rare books to which I’ve given a 4.5 rating. Several this year which is unusual. Read it. You won’t be sorry. Like everything coming from Dean Street Press, it is worth it.

My Verdict

4.5

Apparently this memoir is mentioned in this documentary.