Sunday, September 25, 2011

"It's About The Lies We Tell...."

"It's about the lies we tell others to protect them, and about the lies we tell ourselves in order not to acknowledge what we can't bear: that we are alive, for instance, and eating lunch, while bombs are falling, and refugees are crammed into camps, and the news comes toward us every hour of the day. And what, in the end, do we do?" - Sarah Blake in her 'The Story Behind the Story' at the end of her book, The Postmistress.
I went in search of some new books and/or new authors to read. I found them online via the Beaverdale Books, Book Reviews. Beaverdale Books is an independent book store in Des Moines. I have yet to visit it in person, but I know I am going to love it when I do.
One of the authors reviewed that I thought sounded worth checking into was Sarah Blake. Luckily, our library had both books she has written. Her first novel, Grange House, takes place in the late 1890's on the coast of Maine. Not only is it written with the details and customs of that era, it is convincingly written with the language of that time.
"Every summer Maisie Thomas has come with her parents to Grange House, a hotel on the coast of Maine overseen by the elegant and inscrutable Miss Grange, who resides in the topmost story. The enormous house always thrilled Maisie, appearing to her like something from old novels. But in the summer of 1896, the seventeen-year-old Maisie arrives restless and longing for her life's story to be different from those she has found between the covers of many books. As if in answer, the secrets of Grange House and its attic inhabitant begin to wrest free of their silence."
The novel is part family saga, part ghost story, part love story - all elements that would normally keep me reading. However, it was Blake's beautiful prose which kept me reading until the end of the book. Whether it was the story itself, or the ponderousness of the language, this book did not excite me as did her second novel:

The Postmistress. This book is one I want to say to everyone, "You have to read this book. It is so good. You just have to read it." Not only does Blake's beautiful prose shine throughout the novel, it is so thought provoking that at the end I was left asking, "What can I do?" It is the type of book that always made me wish I could write - that I could affect others as Blake affects me in this WWII novel.
"It is 1940. France has fallen. Bombs are dropping on London. And President Roosevelt is promising he won't send our boys to fight in "foreign wars."
But American radio gal Frankie Bard, the first woman to report from the Blitz in London, wants nothing more than to bring the war home. Frankie's radio dispatches crackle across the Atlantic Ocean, imploring listeners to pay attention - as the Nazis bomb London nightly, and Jewish refugees stream across Europe. Frankie is convinced that if she can just get the right story, it will wake Americans to action and they will join the fight."
Again, it is most likely the subject matter which makes this book so much more interesting for me. Even though its action takes place 70 years ago - and two years before my birth - the era of World War II always resonates with me.
The stories of announcer Frankie Bard, Cape Cod postmistress, Iris James, and Emma Fitch, the young wife of Dr. Will Fitch, weave together to give a most convincing portrait of what it meant to live through the horrors and deprivations of that time. It makes me want to read more about Mary Marvin Breckinridge and Martha Gellhorn.


Kim Edwards won acclaim for The Memory Keeper's Daughter and rightly so. I read the book and found it captivating. But, again, probably because of the setting and characters, I liked Edwards's, The Lake of Dreams, even better.
Lucy Jarrett returns to her home in the Finger Lakes region of upper New York after her mother is injured in an accident. She realizes how much things have changed while she has been away. Her mother is considering selling the lake home that has been in the family for generations. Lucy is haunted by the drowning death of her father, still feeling guilty about her actions the night he died a decade before.
Unable to sleep, she paces the hallways of the rambling house, discovering inside a locked window seat (she inherited the family ability to open locks) a collection of suffragette pamphlets and news clippings which lead her to the discovery of hidden family history.
I thought Edwards characters were very believable and her handling of family jealousies and squabbles rang true. And family history and its discovery is a passion of mine.

Another book review I read in the Beaverdale Books site was My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares - the author of The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants - none of which I've read. But the premise of living more than one life - and remembering those lives - is something I have long been interested in.
The book jumps from present time all the way back through centuries as Daniel keeps trying to reconnect to his one true love, Sophia, or Lucy, as she is named in the present lifetime. He has the ability to remember all his lives, while she does not, which makes it hard for him to convince her they are meant to be together. To complicate matters, Sophia/Lucy was once married to his brother, a mean, revengeful type, who is also looking for Lucy through their many lives.
I have read other previous lives books which I liked much more than this one. If you read one of these four novels, it should be The Postmistress.

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