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Review: The School for German Brides: A Novel of World War II by Aimie K. Runyan 

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My Interest

I had this on hold at the library, but reading Davida’s review on her blog The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog, made me certain I would want to listen to it and finish it. In the end, I agreed completely with her review and add a few more thoughts. Won’t you be nice and click on the link to her review, read it too, and leave her a comment?

I’ve read a ton the lives and education of girls and women in Nazi Germany. Their indoctrination was an odd mix of the ultra-conservative plus a solitary liberal touch (the need for “pure” babies outweighed the need to shame single mothers being the liberal touch) so this book caught my eye instantly. While Hitler was venerated and worshipped instead of God or Christ, there is so much similarity with the American Quiverfull movement, whose purpose is to “outbreed” their opponents (and so much similarity with EVERY extremely conservative religion or society–even Stalin’s USSR during World War II) that I just kept looking for more and more information. For more on the Nazi Bride Schools read this article from The Daily Mail.

The Story

Three young women, just at the age of entering adulthood in Hitler’s Germany in 1938. Hanna embarks on a new life with her Uncle and Aunt, party stalwarts in Berlin, following the death of her mother. A midwife and herbalist, her mother had been a natural healer whose practice was outlawed by the regime. Hanna’s father has sent her Berlin to get her on the correct, safe, path for adulthood. Klara, the daughter of her Uncle and Aunt’s friends, becomes her first friend in Berlin. Both are expected to make advantageous marriages to ranking Nazis. Tilde, half Jewish, is the daughter of a dressmaker who serves both families, and is friends with Klara who apparently has not figured out her heritage.

Both Hanna and Klara are “guided” (forced) into the role of perfect German wives by their aunt or mother. But neither is a 1930’s version of a Stepford Wife-to-be. Particularly not Hanna. When the women are given the “honor” of attending the most exclusive of Hitler’s Bride Schools, the fit with the school’s ethos is less than perfect.

My Thoughts 

First the picky stuff 

  • Who used the word “trope” in 1938?
  • Swearing–girls like that were NOT brought up to swear. Saying “God” or Damn or Hell even in private would not have occurred to them.
  • “It’s complicated….”
  • In 1939 Nazi Germany, where professors were under total scrutiny would any professor have spoken out so clearly to a student? Maybe, if he was stupid.
  • Did people really say “go to Uni” [University] in 1939? [Since Americans say “college” not “uni” I’m not sure, but I doubt it].

Characters in historical fiction using modern speech or behavior is a pet peeve. Happily, while there were a couple of other things like this, overall it did not lessen my enjoyment of the story. I point it out to show, for the millionth time, that skimping on REAL editors and (apparently) relying on spell check does not produce as wonderful a book as a real, experienced, human editor would.

My Thoughts on the Story

SPOLERS

As a modern woman with 20/20 hindsight, I liked Hanna’s spirit. She knew her own mind and didn’t want to marry anyone at that age, let alone an SS Captain in his mid-30s (with her Uncle’s connections she could have landed a much older Colonel, so it wasn’t as bad as all that). She was interested in becoming a doctor or at least going to college–a perfectly normal ambition to someone today. Many young women in the 30s did go to college, but not in all countries.

Klara, too, had spirit. Perhaps because she was with her parents, lifelong habits of obedience let her be more accepting of their influence on her future. Regardless, she was the bolder of the two in reaching out to help Tilde once she admitted knowing her secret. That was admirable. She could be a typical young woman and be both catty to her friend and loving. Her advice to “try to make the best of it” was sincere and very good advice. Once she got over the loss of her potential excellent marriage, and accepted an only slightly lesser one, she at least got a man who seemed sincere and decent in spite of his high party affiliation. But, she took the greatest risk–showing both maturity and immaturity in so doing. Maturity in refusing to see someone as less than human or less than deserving, but immaturity in the way she chose to help. A more mature woman would have done so with much greater discretion.

I have no sympathy for the Nazis, but I do realize they were, in part, educated to be the way they were with the party hyping up the anti-Semitism that was present in all societies then to a fever pitch. Still, the SS were fanatics, so I found it interesting that Friedrich occasionally evidenced some genuine humanity. Of course, his finance,  Hanna, was an Aryan and a “good catch” in so many ways. But not many men of that era (or any era), regardless of nationality, religious or political beliefs, would have put up with a finance embarrassing them, though, of course, not all would react in a bad way. I thought Hanna, again, took the risks only the young and naïve would take. A more mature woman would have worked against him in more subtle and more effective ways.

Tilde’s story was nearly miraculous in the way her mother was so swiftly gotten to safety. At that point, lines at the U.S. Consulate were days-of-waiting-long. I also found it tough to believe she fell for Samuel that quickly. Through the mother-right, she was born Jewish, but in Nazi terms, she did not “look” Jewish. She was hiding in plain sight. The young take risks so lightly no matter how noble and honest it was of her to embrace her heritage.  

Nevertheless…

I found this book well written–the story was so compelling I kept listening in the evenings at home–I just HAD to hear more! Even so, I was very disappointed though, that little to nothing of the actual Bride School experience was in the book–that was just a “hook” of a title and a handy location for the ending. I would like to have read much more about that experience which was meant to make fanatical followers of Hitler and perfect German wives–especially for S.S. officers like Friedrich. In that, the book failed to deliver. Regardless, I still found it a very good story. 

My Verdict

3.75

For more on the Nazi Bride Schools read this article from The Daily Mail

See Also:

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Nazi Wives by James Wyllie

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Review: We Band: A Novel of Angels by Elise Hooper

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My Interest

I read and enjoyed the author’s previous books, Fast Girls, and The Other Alcott (links are to my reviews). I devoured the book, We Band of Angels, about the real nurses on Bataan that is linked at the bottom of this post. That I finished the story of a Filipina heroine in Asian American Pacific Islander month is just something nice, but totally unplanned. So many Filipinos have served the United States proudly in the past, in spite of the Colonial relationship forced upon them in the now mostly forgotten Spanish American War.

The Story

Tess is a Army nurse in the Philippines as the Japanese are saber-rattling and getting ready to plunge the USA into World War II. Flor, a Filipina college student, is set to leave for the USA on December 8, 1941. When the Japanese attack Tess and her colleagues are sent to Bataan to serve in a “jungle” hospital where their health severely deteriorated. Next they were moved to the Malinta tunnel on Corregidor. When the Japanese forced General Wainwright to surrender, the nurses were imprisoned at the former University of Santo Tomas campus in Manilla.

The nurses had been given no Army basic training, knew nothing of handling weapons (unless taught to shoot a rifle back home) but survived their harrowing ordeal through grit, determination, and the bonds of true friendship–relying upon each other to stay strong. Along the way, as often happens in war time, even in captivity, romance happens.

Flor, from Manila, turns to helping the resistance–using an ingenious technique to smuggle messages out of Santo Tomas. Her family’s loyal servant helps her, but is clearly her own person–not just taking on the risk of the resistance to keep her job. Flor, too, continues the ‘other’ side of her life, continuing to live with her family and enjoying a romance

My Thoughts 

I’ve done a poor job of conveying all the emotion that is in this story! The characters were well developed and I came to care about all of the main characters. Yes, there is romance, but it does not in any way diminish the heroism of these women. Tess must make a horrible choice at one point, but proves herself up to the task and then some. Flor, too, faces harrowing choices, but does so resolutely and decisively. I admired both of these women even though they were fictional.

I did find Don’s story a little weird. When reading that storyline I did not feel enough emotion for him and X (no spoilers) to predict that conclusion. It still seems a little “out there” to me. No matter, it is one small minor storyline.

Of the three books by Elise Hooper that I’ve read, I think this did the best at conveying the emotion and atmosphere of the story.

My Verdict

4.0

Angels of the Pacific: A Novel by Elise Hooper

My Reviews of Other Books By This Author:

Fast Girls: A Novel of the 1936 Women’s Olympic Team

The Other Alcott

The Nonfiction Counterpart to this Book

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We Band of Angels by Elizabeth M. Norman

My review was lost on my old blog, so the link is the Amazon. I do not make any money if you click.

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Review: The Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson

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#netgalley

First, thank you to #Netgalley for a copy for this book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

This book is the sequel to The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by the same author. It is the book that involved author JoJo Moyes in an accusation of plagiarism due to the similarity of some passages of her book on the same subject. I have also read nonfiction books on the pack horse librarians–those books are at the end of the linked post.

The Story

In first book, we met Cussy Mary Carter is a “Blue,” a person with a rare condition that turns her skin blue. This time we are treated to the story of her daughter, “Honey.” This time both miscegenation and eugenics rear their ugly heads in the hills and hollars of the Eastern Kentucky of the early 1950s. Cussy and her husband are arrested for miscegenation–the marrying of white and black, and are thrown in prison. That leaves their daughter, Honey, a little short of 18, with having to have a guardian or face being sent to reform school until age 21. Her first guardian dies, leaving her vulnerable. But will a job with a new version of the pack horse librarians help her to win legal emancipation? Elsewhere in the community, someone is terrorizing the new female forest service fire-watcher. In prison, near Louisville, Cussy is subjected to lingering eugenics laws and forcibly sterilized while her husband rides out isolation from a prison polio epidemic.

My Thoughts

If anything, I thought this book was as good as the first one. There was plenty of action, a few good friendships for Honey, and lots of ways to see society trying to change. I loved all of that. Firewatcher Pearl, widowed single Mom and trailblazing female miner, Bonnie, and store clerk. Francis open up new vistas for Honey and help her take those last few steps out of childhood and into adulthood.

My only dislike was the insistence that Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Lady Chatterly’s Lover were put into the court scene. It was not only in the “back woods” of Kentucky that people objected to these books. This was the 1950s–not today, people were much more conservative (even though my paternal grandmother bought Lady Chatterly). I would not have been shocked if someone had ended a library outreach program in the 1950s over even one of those books–even if they were not owned by the library itself (as was the case in the story). I thought that was cramming a bit too much of 2022 into the story. [For those new here, I am a librarian. I am very well-versed in the censorship debates].

In spite of this one little blip, I thought this was an excellent read. I honestly hope there will be a third book.

The Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson

My Verdict


4.0

Historical Fiction

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Review: River of Earth by James Still

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“Father looked darkly at her, and she ran out of the garden, ashamed of her vain-wishing”

My Interest

On my new job another librarian told me about the Kentucky Virtual Library and mentioned author Janice Holt Giles, whose book The Believers I admire (and recommend to anyone visiting Kentucky’s Shaker home), so I decided to check it out. I was browsing the University of Kentucky Press’ holdings on the KYVL and ran across author James Still. I wasn’t interested in poetry, but took a look at this book and in a few minutes I was hooked. It was a strange coincidence that, at the same time, my audio book for my commute, How Green Was My Valley, also looked at the devastation of coal mining on the land and on the soul.

A lot of it sounded similar–though not as in plagiarism. And, no surprise there. Much of Appalachia was settled by the Scots-Irish and Welsh (my ancestors). In the 1980’s PBS series, The Story of English, it was revealed that some of the dialect STILL spoken resembled the English of Shakespeare’s day. Hmmmm….maybe by really old folks. Mostly today that dialect is a mess of bad grammar and what we used to call “cussing.”

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Map of the USA showing Kentucky, The coal mines are mostly in the eastern counties.

The Story

“‘I was born to dig coal,’ Father said.” (p. 241)

Seen through the eyes of the elder (eldest at the start) son of a a Kentucky hill family, River of Earth tells of the struggle to make a living in the coal mining region of Kentucky seemingly at approximately the end of the 19th Century or early in the 20th (no cars, telephone, etc). His mother Alpha, and his father, Brack, have a good marriage and, at the start of the story, 3 sons and a daughter: the unnamed son who tells the story, Euly, the only daughter, Fletch and Green, the younger sons.

“This [meat] box holds nothing but a hungry smell.” (p.59)

Alpha longs for a real home–a homestead, where she can always be sure of having a garden to provide food for her family, and to have a cow for milk for her children. She wants to have a home inhabited just by her own small family-herself, her husband and their children. Brack, though, has coal in his veins. He lives to mine coal and takes satisfaction from it. He also feels the ties of family very fiercely and likes having relatives with them even when they eat them out of house and home. Time and again Alpha builds up the supplies, growing a nice garden and puts it up for her family only to have the mines reopen and Brack haul them all away from the parcel of rented land again to another company house at a coal mine.

Both parents want their children to have an education–at least in keeping with their time. But too often, when they move to the mine the school is shuttered and the children get nothing. But they learn through the folklore of the tales their ribald uncles tell. And he wants to read a tract that the tract lady sells for a donation–that’s all the literature he knows can be bought.

The environmental devastation of coal mining is represented in the burning slag heaps that cause a fog and miasma around the company town. The fetid air, made worse by poor sanitation, poor hygiene, tobacco spit (still a problem in Appalachia in spite of all the Mt Dew bottles pressed into service as spittoons today).

My Thoughts

I can imagine in 1940 this book probably set some people off–much like JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy did a few years ago, although one is a novel, the other a memoir. The “charming” folksy dialect would make some back then cringe–especially those who have just escaped that life and made their way to a high school and possibly a decent job outside the mines.

Today, we appreciate that the dialect is “folklore”–possibly the most maligned academic subject ever, especially belittled by Conservatives who see it as a “do-nothing” degree that never leads to a job. But part of folklore is the way language is used and changes. It also looks at kinship patterns, a food, at superstitions and at traditional medicine. All of that is in this book to some degree. Language, too, is part of folklore. No one today may say “Mounty-cat” for a [animal] catamount, for example, but that is just one example from the story.

This is an incredible story. It truly does make a fine pairing with How Green Was My Valley–the themes, the people, the values–all of it works so well together.

My Verdict

4.0

River of Earth: A Novel by James Still

 

 

 

Historical Fiction

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1954 Club Review: Mary Anne by Daphne Du Maurier

My Interest

I love doing these [Year] Club challenges! 1954 is the year this time.The Club is hosted by Karen and Simon. 1954 is around the time my Dad and my (maternal) Uncle Bob started at Purdue (I should know the exact year, but….) and my Mom was finishing high school. That made it interesting. For publication dates I’ve used Wikipedia’s 1954 in Literature and similar. Dates can differ between U.S. and U.K. publication. When I saw Dear Daphne’s name in the list I was pretty sure I’d read her book–I’m working my way through all of her books, so why not? You can read the about the other possibilities in my 1954 Club introductory post HERE.

The Story

The Duke of York involved in a scandal?

A Royal “girlfriend” needing a hand-out?

Graft and Corruption at all levels of government?

A Prince of Wales who….

Oh never mind! LOL. No, this isn’t a contemporary account of today’s House of Windsor! The scandals involve the sons of America’s last king–George III. The run amok Hanovers (aka Brunswicks). Americans don’t learn these little ditties, but this one is too wonderful:

George I was reckoned vile

Viler still was George II

Who ever heard any good of George III?

When George IV to hell descended, God be praised the George’s ended.

That’s them! George, Prince of Wales living in sin with Mrs. Fitzherbert, had his wife arrested when she tried to enter the coronation to be crowned with him! The Duke of York and Albany commanded the Army (just as, a generation or so later, the first Prince George of Cambridge did). Just HOW scandalous were George III’s offspring? He had 15 children–FIFTEEN and not one son had a legitimate heir! The Duke of Clarence jettisoned the mother of his many illegitimate children to try to begat an heir to the throne, but failed. The Duke of Kent finally fathered Victoria, and The Duke of Cambridge fathered the above mentioned  George–who, had he been born a little earlier would have been King. Instead the Queen Victoria got he throne. (Her uncle, Leopold–also Albert’s uncle, was married to Princess Charlotte, the heiress presumptive who died in child birth causing the need for a legitimate heir). Queen Mary was a great-granddaughter of  George III through her mother, George Cambridge’s sister.

But, back to the book. So, Mrs. Mary Anne Clark. She was what is politely known as a “courtesan” or royal mistress. But a royal mistress who didn’t limit herself to just dear old Frederick Augustus, Duke of York and Albany. She had a regular stable of “backers.” Like Churchill’s daughter-in-law Pamela Digby (later Mrs. Averil Harriman) she was good at getting information out of men and good at keeping her mouth shut and using it to her own advantage. She lived in the style she felt the man expected–and deserved, and to hell with the bills. (Ask Brook Hayward how this worked out in the 20th Century when dear Pammy played Mary Anne to Brook’s father, producer Leland Hawyard). Sadly, the edict, “no one MARRIES Pam Churchill” was the same as that applied to “poor” Mary Anne. And, just like the mistress of the future Edward VIII, poor Mrs. Dudley Ward in the 1930s, Mary Anne was told by a flunky what her fate was. The more things change, the more they stay the same! Unlike a certain royal wife of today who pined for someone to ask if she was “ok,” Mary Anne landed on her feet every time until she didn’t. She was very clever and very good at grasping politics–just like dear Pammy who would end up as U.S. Ambassador to Paris. Of course, like a certain royal mistress.…sorry “wife” today, she was tripped up telling “her truth” to Parliament (one can hope…) And like the modern day Duchess of York (but not Albany), Mary Anne turned to interesting means to get the bills paid. And, the Duke of York and Albany–old Fred? He was too honorable. Now, doesn’t that ring a bell? (No word on whether he could sweat).

My Thoughts

Now this, THIS, was a royal novel to sink your teeth into!! Dear old Frederick Augustus, in his well-worn, if bespoke, drawers had a mistress who adored him, but took him at his word that when he wasn’t in her house her life was her own. Dear Bill was there as were others.

I am holding out hope that a certain royal ….(wife is just not the right word for That Woman) might meet the same ending. How sweet would justice being served at least be? No matter, this is a novel, not real life. I hope Dear Daph, in her role as Lady Browning (her married title) got to spend time in the Royal Archives at Windsor for this book. It was very, very well done. I loved the whole book! It’s very close to overtaking The King’s General as my favorite by DDM.

My Verdict

4.5

Mary Ann by Daphne Du Maurier

I am also counting this book toward the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Neither her husband, nor her other daughter, are shown.

Historical Fiction

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Review: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

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My Interest

I was taken to Shakesphere’s home, Straford-upon-Avon in 1977. It was somewhat lost on me as an experience. I had not yet read anything by Shakespeare, which (like not having read Scott in the Lake District) she found incomprehensible. She’d had to start reading pieces from his work at about age 8 back before World War I. (She still knew the Latin and German she’d learned back then, too). Schools were the vast wasteland of ignorance in the 70’s. “Phase electives” like literate of death (Death Be Not Proud was a very hot book at that time) or Sports Lit (Paper Lion, Brian’s Song–both had been popular movies ) were more normal than reading the Bard. My Freshman English class skipped Romeo and Juliet due to mixing the dumbest kids in the Freshmen class with future engineers, the future Valedictorian and some “normal” academic achievers like me. We had too many who couldn’t read to do R/J I guess. Or maybe the girls gym teacher who was teaching the l class just wan’t up to it.

I read Hamlet later in high school and then in college with the horrible Waiting for Godot and Rosecrans and Gildenstern are dead. (I still can’t stand theater of the absurd). I’m also a big fan of The Diary of Samuel Pepys which is an account of a life lived at the same time as this story.

The Story

This is a fictionalized story of Shakespeare, his wife, now known to the world as “Anne” Hathaway (some argue her name was Agnes) and their children–especially their son, Hamnet (which then was written interchangeably with Hamlet).

My Thoughts

I found the story interesting. I had hoped there would be more of Agnes and her falconry, for I was very taken with her and her hobby. But no, the falcon [sorry–small spoiler] is sent to live with that era’s “friends with a farm” where the bird can “run and play.”

I felt for Agnes–she enters her husband’s family, has to help with everything, and eventually, her husband gets to go off to London (admittedly no paradise then) and make a name for himself there without her. Having been in a long-distance relationship back before the internet, with only letters that took forever to arrive from the other country or outrageously expensive phone calls that were hard to hear on to keep in touch, I understood the way she seemed to torture herself when they were apart by thinking he wasn’t staying true to her and that he must be doing business that was less than ethical. When the big event happens, he is, of course, in London and Agnes must struggle on. I especially liked that all of this was written with a sense of dignity–that dignity escaping it only briefly here and there when a fevered pitch as reached. When Agnes arrives to see why her husband has used their son’s name and life as his inspiration, she faces an entirely new set of emotions.

While the entire story kept my attention very well, I loved the tale of how the plague spread. That was inventive and very, very good section to pull out for a lesson on how germs spread. I did not expect that, but was weirdly delighted by it. Also, the discussion of medicinal plants was often very interesting.

My Verdict

4.0

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Historical Fiction

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Review: Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love by Kim Fay

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My Interest

An epistolary novel–a story told in letters, that concerns friendship, mentions many books, and tons of great food? You bet!

The Story

The less we cement ourselves to our certainties, the fuller our lives can be.”

Joan is a young woman in Los Angeles stifled by her job as a secretary for a drugstore. She reads a colorful column in a magazine about clam digging on the coast of Washington near Seattle. [The column is included after the author’s notes]. She writes to the author, Imogen (“Immy”) and Imogen writes back. A friendship is born.The time is October 1962 (when I was 7 months old!). The friends become early “foodies” and try new things and learn to cook fresh, exciting food. They share their hearts with each other about life, their men, world events, changes in the world and more. Imogen is 10 years older than Joan’s mother, but she feels like Immy could be her sister.

Note: Don’t skip over the author’s notes or the surprises at the end! So good. There are even recipes!

My Thoughts

A little disappointing. It’s hard to write too much about the story–it would all be spoilers. I must say this book was partially a disappointment–and I had truly expected to love it. An historical fiction pet peeve or two reared its/their head(s) [this ambiguity in counting is dependent upon how you view them].  Times were changing in the early to mid 1960s. but some attitudes expressed in the story were dangerously close to modern. 60 years ago was not today. At one point one of the ladies all but admits she discovered her “white privilege.” Lots of people were waking up to racism, its true, and women’s liberation was getting a great start, but it was laid on a little thick in this instance.

Also, there were things that were a bit prescient–mentioning how Scoop Jackson and others were said to be working on civil rights legislation and how cool it was to be alive at that point in history is an example. Those were a bit much. There were a few others–but that’s sampling enough of that sort of thing. I also felt having Joan, who wrote about food, being given an assignment to interview [no spoilers] had too tenuous a tie. That one was an eye-roll.

What I Loved. I liked the friendship that developed and though, probably due to today’s page limits, it had to develop quickly I did not find that difficult to accept. I liked the way Joan’s career progressed in a believable way from secretary to writer since she had the education necessary from Stanford and UCLA. I do wonder how her male friend felt about her new career (no spoilers) since he sort of got her started. I liked their relationship, but …[no spoilers]. I thought the Tijuana story, while it’s ending was the one I hoped for, did him a grave injustice.

I’d love to have know Joan, her mother, her male friend, and, especially, Immy, and Francis–and their University foodie-friends in real life. I shared Immy’s angst over the Pike Place Market in Seattle being threatened. Indianapolis’ City Market was reduced to a food court for a number of years–great lunch spot, but not what it was meant to be, so I loved the discussion of that. Urban Planning and “Urban Renewal” were very hot topics well into the 1970s–I have a great memory of that I’ll share another time.

I would enjoy reading the author’s other novel and her Vietnamese travel and cookbook and will request them from the library. She tells a good story. And, I’m in awe that she got to work at Elliott Bay Books! I loved that she, too, had an inspiring great aunt (I had more than one) who shared the New Yorker and more with her as mine did with me, and that her aunt was the model for Immy.

My Verdict

3.0

Love & Saffron by Kim Fay

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Reading Wales Review: The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed

My Interest

As I understand it, Reading Wales Month showcases Welsh authors. I think it is probably just fine to sneak in another book SET in Wales though. At least I hope so. The Fortune Men dovetails so nicely with Sugar and Slate–the book the host blogger chose for this year’s #dewithon22. Like that book, there is the story of race, religion and what makes someone “belong” in this book, too. Plus, the novel is based on a true story–that’s always interesting.

The Story

maps showing Somalia and Wales

In the Cardiff of 1952, Somali merchant seaman Mahmood Mattan, both Black and a Muslim (but not an American “Black Muslim” of the Nation of Islam) is accused of killing white, Jewish, shop owner Violent. “Moody,” as his white Welsh wife Laura calls him, continues to proclaim his innocence and believe the British justice system will treat him fairly. But on the witness stand Moody is often his own worst enemy. He comes across as angry, arrogant, and prideful. A worse combination for an accused murder could not be imagined. But add in being Black, foreign, married to a white woman, the father of three mixed race sons, and a Muslim and you know the verdict. It would mostly be the same today, sadly.

While Moody is enduring the wait for his hearing and then his trial, we learn his life story from his boyhood in British Somaliland, to his service in the Merchant Navy (Merchant Marine to Americans) during which he sailed the seven seas and proudly lists them in a conversation.

His wife and children endure the sort of racial prejudice, threats to their security, and endless nasty looks and little put-downs that today we know as “microaggressions” while waiting to learn his fate. Moody’s attempts to shield his children are sweet and touching. We see the heart beneath the so-called “arrogance” when his children are involved.

Even at the time of the story, Cardiff has a fairly large community of foreign merchant sailors, but can residents be counted on to tell a Somali from a West African? Can they be trusted to identify the right man? Is there information that could save him that isn’t being brought forward? Does his mother-in-law know something? Does he have secrets? What about his wife?

My Thoughts

This was a slow book to get going, but once it did I did not want to stop listening. I’m not big on crime stories, but this one really pulled me in. It was so eerily like so many court cases today. The fact that so many Black parents still feel that absolutely must teach their young sons how to interact with the police–whether the officer is Black or white. The over-zealous arrest and sentencing of Black men compared to white men committing the same exact crimes is so stark. I only know the US figures, but I honestly can’t imagine it is much different in the UK.

Moody’s mistrust of the police and his understandable unwillingness to kowtow to a bunch of white jurors when he knows he is innocent is so absolutely “today.” Except there was no d.n.a. evidence in 1952, no security cameras, to tell a different story.

I thought of his lawyer telling his that British justice treats a Duke or a man like him exactly the same, but surely he knew that was a lie, right? A Somali sailor in 1952 (or in 2022) treated the same as a Peer of the Realm–laughable.

My Verdict

(ouch on the word choice)

4.0

The Fortune Men: A Novel by Nadifa Mohamed

 

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Reading Wales Month Review: How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

My Interest

I thought this book would work for the Reading Wales hosted by Book Jotter.  Sadly, Karen at Booker Talk however, pointed out that though born to Welsh parents, Richard Llewellyn is not considered a Welsh author and that he lied about being born in Wales! Not good. Happily, her blog includes another great list of true Welsh authors. And hard to take when the story was so beautifully told. I’m trying not to let that sordid news kill my joy in the story. (This controversy ties in nicely with the Reading Wales book choice for this year: Sugar & Slate by Charlotte Williams, which debates who is Welsh! Two Welsh parents doesn’t add up to being Welsh).

Note: This is a very hard book to review. It is a coming of age story and story of societal change.

The Story

Late in the 19th Century,  a young boy was growing up in the large family of a coal miner–or mine worker since his father was employed above ground. Few coming of age stories have been so beautifully told. As Huw grows up, the mines grow “in”–in closer to the family’s home. We watch a few of his many brothers become involved in forming a union–against their father’s wishes. Another toils in the mine, the comes home to work on inventions. Huw is bright and his father determines to send him over the mountain to the National School. There he encounters a sarcastic and sadistic teacher. Huw’s spirit is saved by a patient pastor and by the steadfastness of his family.

We see the tale of life in the mining village and on and around the mountain as the times change. The morality of “Chapel” is show in the true light of day–some are sincere believers who act kindly, others are full of their own importance and take pains to put people down–just like today. We see the family working and then trying to relax without being bored to death by the lack of entertainment. They turn instead to books. To the Bible, of course each night, but also to what books they own. None are light reading and Huw admits to how the struggled with a few of them.

“O, there is lovely to feel a book, a good book, firm in the hand, for its fatness holds rich promise, and you are hot inside to think of good hours to come.” “How green was my valley then, and the valley of them that have gone.”

All the time though, Huw’s family are educating themselves either through doing or observing, or by reading aloud. Huw learns woodwork; a brother tinkers with inventions that help him build a career. When, later on, Hugh goes to a see a play with a girl just for fun, his father is horrified. (I feel like his father any time I try watch so many of today’s movies or t.v. shows!) Beyond reading there is only the Chapel choir and rugby or boxing for entertainment.

As his life goes on Huw must make choices–to leave home or stay in the mines is the biggest. His brothers go off to make their way in the world in the US or New Zealand. He must come to decide what he wants from life. Meanwhile, the mines are encroaching more and more into the town

My Thoughts

“You must learn to tell worry from thought, and thought from prayer. Sometimes a light will go from your life, Huw, and your life becomes a prayer, till you are strong enough to stand under the weight of your own thought again.”

This was one of the most beautifully-written books I’ve ever read. I’m only sorry I waited till age 60 to read it! There is so much in it that shows up in Appalachia (as we will see next week) and in non-farming towns of the Midwest still today. I especially liked the emphasis on faith and the fact that the mother was so careful about planning for her family’s well-being.

“How quiet is the house when the mistress has gone.”
 

Mothers still must be far more cautious than Fathers in protesting in the workplace. They must think ahead to the outgrown shoes, the empty stomachs, the prescriptions needed when a child is ill. Yes there is welfare and food stamps today, there are food pantries and clothing ministries but mothers are the ones who must go stand in line and fill out the humiliating forms and take the charity that they often do not protest.

“There must be some way to live your life in a decent manner, thinking and acting decently, and yet manage to make a good living.”

There were so many parallels to today as well. The radicalization of the workers–today’s political climate is either far left or far right, and then, too, we have the “Great Resignation” going on which is very radical indeed.  The backlash against former Colonial and slave-owning powers, too, is mirrored in the mistrust and dislike of the English by many in the book. The debate about language–whether English or the “real” language of the people should be used and celebrated is still on-going today. Companies today give great lip service to saving the environment while trading in air pollution waivers and similar. And, of course, most sadly of all, CEO’s still earn such a sickening amount of money they might as well be given Dukedoms to go with it.

My Verdict

4.5

How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

 

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Review: Little Souls: A Novel by Sandra Dallas

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Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Interest

I’ve read a couple of other books by Sandra Dallas (see the bottom of this post) and I keep hoping there will be one of her books that I really love. I’ve be “fine” with them, there were “fine,” I just want to be wowed by this author. This story seemed to have that potential. It’s a timely story beings set in the Spanish Flu epidemic that began in the last year of World War I, 1918 and lasted until 1920. It also features two independent ladies–sisters, who move to a new place all on their own. And, for once, that place wasn’t New York, but Denver, Colorado.

The Story

Sisters Lutie, an illustrator, and Helen, a nurse, move to Denver and find work. Lutie illustrates ads for a department store and Helen works at a hospital. They rent the basement of their house out for extra income. A family moves in with an unstable husband, a long-suffering wife, and a little daughter who needs protecting.

Meanwhile, both of the sisters find prospective husbands–Helen, naturally finds a young doctor, and Lutie, unexpectedly lands the son of a local judge–a powerful and wealthy man. The sisters watch as America enters the war–Lutie’s finance ships out with the other Doughboys. Meanwhile, in the basement, all is not good. The husband takes his frustrations out on his little family. When the wife dies, the daughter is left too vulnerable. Meanwhile, the flu strikes.

My Thoughts

My first thought is, why hasn’t Oprah promoted this book? Then I remembered it isn’t out until April 26th. It packs about as much depressing stuff into a story as possible. All of the normal Oprah book type stuff. Rape, murder, trafficking, incest, rats, blackmail, false accusations, disease, a hooker with a heart of gold–you name it, its in there, albeit in small doses and thankfully not graphically depicted. This has Oprah’s Book Club written all over it.

Then there were things like this: “The Rocky Mountain News said we wouldn’t need to be afraid of the influenza if we voted Republican.” Make it stop already! Trump is gone. Quit with this stuff. Stay in the time of the story, please. Wilson was President then and he was a Democrat. And then prescient statements like this: “You know…they’re saying the [flu] could kill as many people as the war…..” And then this gem” “I’d like to be a fine artist painting pictures to make people see the injustice in the world, that cause them to protest discrimination….” Right…exactly. That was happening all over the place in 1917, right? In the U.S. it was all but illegal to gather during World War I. President Wilson re-segregated the Civil Service and cracked down on anything that could stir dissent against the war or for the Germans.

I was interested enough in the sisters’ story to finish the book, but oh boy what a finish! Will the woke never end in contemporary fiction? The heart-strings were tugged as well as the corset strings. I cared about Lutie and Helen and Dorothy and admired their spirit and independence. I was impressed with the way they helped and protected Dorothy. But the author had them swear like modern day women. If Helen had been overheard swearing she’d have been fired. Probably Lutie would have, too. And women did NOT smoke in public then. None. Maybe in a Paris nightclub, but not in Conservative Denver, Colorado ice cream shop. Do not “modernize” things to appeal to today’s readers. It doesn’t work.

This story just had too many bad things going on. It was depressing more than serious. I didn’t expect all unicorns and rainbows, but I didn’t expect a Penny Dreadful either. The soliloquy by the judge’s wife made me giggle, roll my eyes AND yell “Oh, please” and it was supposed to be serious. I also thought the Epilogue was silly and shouldn’t have been there. It seemed like a sop to book clubs (or a ruse by the editor to keep the author from writing a sequel?)

My Verdict

2.5

Little Souls by Sandra Dallas

My Reviews of Other Books by this author:

A Quilt for Christmas

The Persian Pickle Club

I also read this book for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Historical Fiction