Life has a way of surprising us. When we think we are defeated, we find a way to rise from the ashes.
Natasha Solomons’s 2015 novel, The Song of Hartgrove Hall is set in two different time periods and is told through the eyes of one character. Harry Fox-Talbot is the youngest son of a family that has resided in an aristocratic home in Dorset, England for centuries. But the world around him has changed. Though he and his brothers have returned from fighting for King and country in World War II in one piece, the home they grew up in is not so lucky.
A year after the war ends, a new woman enters Harry’s (known to his family and peers as Fox) life. She is Edie Rose, a Jewish woman who became known all over the country for her wartime songs. Her presence in his life changes everything. Fifty years later, Edie has recently passed away. Fox is unable to move on from his grief, until he starts to spend time with his grandson. Though the boy is very young, his musical abilities are obvious. Through the time with his grandson, Fox not only starts to come back to life, but to heal the wounds of the past.
The ability to jump between time periods and narratives, as a writer, is a skill that for many writers does not come easy. Many writers who are unable to do this seamlessly often lose readers who are unable to follow the narrative and character arcs. Natasha Solomons is not one of those writers. But while the book is well written and a good read, I thought that this was not one of Ms. Solomons’s better books. I cannot put my finger on the exact reason, but I just prefer her other novels.
Do I recommend it? Maybe.
War has a way of forever changing the world as we know it to be.
Natasha Solomons 2011 book, The House at Tyneford starts just as World War II is engulfing Europe. in 1938, Elise Landau is 19 and up to this point has known a comfortable life. But life for Jews in Vienna, as it is in all parts of Europe, is becoming uncomfortable and unsafe very quickly. For her safety, she is sent to a rural English estate entitled Tyneford, where she has to work for her living as a member of the household staff. Then she meets Kit, the son and only heir to the estate. Their relationship is not only unorthodox and looked down upon, but it will change the fates of both the estate and Elise forever.
I loved this book. I loved it not because of my knowledge of that world and the period, but because I understood Elise and her journey. When one is thrown from the lap of luxury and have to earn their daily bread, they have two options. They can either shrink, complain and become a burden on others. Or, they can rise to the occasion, grow and learn something about themselves in the process.
I absolutely recommend it.
I’ve read quite a few books in 2018. Below is the list of the best books of 2018, at least from my perspective.
- Becoming by Michelle Obama: Mrs Obama’s autobiography is insightful, down to earth and one of the best autobiographies that I have read in a long time.
- House of Gold by Natasha Solomons: House of Gold was described by another reviewer as a Jewish version of Downton Abbey. I couldn’t think of another description if I made it up myself.
- Pride by Ibi Zoboi: A modern-day Pride and Prejudice set in New York City, this Jane Austen adaptation feels old and new at the same time.
- We Are Going to Be Lucky A World War II Love Story in Letters by Elizabeth L. Fox: The story of a marriage during World War II told in a series of letter that will make you believe in love.
- My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie by Todd Fisher: When Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds departed this world two years ago, no one knew them better than their brother and son. The book is a love letter to them by one of the people who knew and loved them best.
- The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah: A young girl growing up in the wilds of Alaska learns some hard truths about life, love and marriage.
- American Tantrum: The Donald J. Trump Presidential Archives by Anthony Atamanuik and Neil Casey: Based on the character created by Anthony Atamanuik on The President Show, it is a what if story in regards to the fictional Presidential library of you know who.
- Not Out Kind: A Novel by Kitty Zeldis: Just after the end of World War II, two women from vastly different worlds meet in New York City and forever change each other’s lives in the process.
- Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux: 150 years after the publication of Little Women, the book still resonates with readers across the globe and across the cultural landscape.
- The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict: Behind every genius is a supportive and loving spouse. But what happens when the spouse is denied her own genius because she is a woman?
That’s my list, what are your favorite books of 2018?
Filed under Book Review, Books, Downton Abbey, Feminism, History, Jane Austen, Movies, New York City, Politics, Pride and Prejudice, Star Wars, Television
The best writers have the ability to take a basic narrative with basic characters and elevate those elements into a story that the audience or reader is able to hook into easily.
The Sound of Music premiered on Broadway in 1959. It is based on the true story of Maria von Trapp, a young woman in Austria who takes a job as a governess before deciding if she will join the nunnery that she has called home. As she turns the hearts of the children under her care, she also turns the heart of their widower father. World War II is on the horizon and the family must make a choice. Stay and support the Nazis or leave with only the clothes on their backs. In the end, they escape with almost nothing except with the knowledge that they are not silently standing by and approving of the new regime.
Recently, LaGuardia High School (otherwise known as the real life New York City High School that Fame is based on) decided to put on a production of The Sound of Music. During the rehearsal process, school administrators decided to downplay the historical facts of play by removing the swastikas from the production.
While I understand where the administrators were coming from, I disagree with their decision. Rodgers and Hammerstein did not just write love stories. Their stories are about issues that we as a society have to deal with. In Sound of Music, the issue is do you follow your conscious and leave everything/everyone that you know and love or do you silently sit back while something that you disagree with continues on?
From my perspective, The Sound of Music is the perfect musical to put on in this political climate. Not just because it is one of the greatest musicals of all time, but it reminds all of us of the power of standing up for what is right, even when no one else is.
Family secrets are like a poison. The secret itself may stay hidden, but the emotional consequences of the secret can leach out and have an effect on the family for generations.
The new novel, The Lost Carousel of Provence, by Juliet Blackwell, is set in three distinct time periods and told from the point of view of three different characters. Cady was raised by the system in California. The only parental figure in her life is her newly deceased foster-mother. With nothing to lose and nothing to keep her in California, Cady travels to France to take pictures of carousels on a freelance assignment. In 1940’s France, Fabrice is a young man who is fighting for his country by joining the resistance. He knows that it is dangerous and he knows there will be consequences for both him and his family if he is caught, but he feels that it is the right thing to do. In the early 20th century, Maelle is young woman who wants to do more than marry, keep a house and raise children. She wants to be an artist. She gets that opportunity, but that comes with life changing experiences.
All three characters, in their own individual lifetimes, are brought together by the Château Clement, an upper class estate in Provence and its legendary carousel. Each plays a part in either hiding or revealing the secret of the Chateau and the family who calls it home.
I really loved this book. I loved it because it was well written, it was exciting and I wanted to reach the end of the book to figure out the mystery. I also loved it because of the bold choice of the narrative structure. It takes a skilled writer to jump between time periods and the narratives of individual characters while maintaining an articulate story arc. While many writers are unable to do this because of the delicate balancing act required while writing a novel with this specific type of narrative structure, Ms. Blackwell is able to do in a way that I find enviable.
I recommend it.
Dec 7th, 1941, was a day that started like any other. By the time the day was over, the United States, which up to that point has stayed out of World War II, was ready to fight. Over two thousand American soldiers were killed and nearly 1200 were wounded during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt labeled the day as day that would live in infamy.
From our modern perspective, World War II was a clean war. What I mean by a clean war was that the objectives were simple. Protect democracy, protect human rights and fight against those who would be happiest in a world where they alone had political power. The wars that followed World War II were not as clean. There were questions of motives, both political and financial and if the cost of the lives lost was worth the war.
The men and women who fought and died in World War II are called The Greatest Generation. They laid down their lives so we could be free. Today, on the 77th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, we remember them, thank them and hope that they will continue to be remembered for years to come.
Comic books are sometimes dismissed as violent, sexual, immature and not fit for the eyes of its young readers. But comic book can also reach its readers in a way that few genres can. Today the comic book genre lost one of its brightest stars and iconic creators, Stan Lee.
Mr. Lee was born in 1922 to Jewish immigrants who were originally from Romania. In his teens, he started working at Timely Comics, which would decades later become Marvel Comics. After fighting for his country in World War II, Mr. Lee returned creating comic books. Instead of introducing readers to variations of the same characters they had seen previously, he started creating characters that were not just misfits, but also fully fleshed out as human beings.
Readers fell in love with immortal characters such as Spider-Man, Black Panther, the Fantastic Four and X-Men. While they were reading about superheroes who were going on out of this world adventures, they were also hopefully opening their minds to those were being disenfranchised because they were different. In a very subtle manner, the Feminist Movement, the Civil rights movement and other movements whose goal of enfranchisement of those who rights have been taken away or non-existent benefited from the characters whose stories are told within these comic books.
In the words of our mutual ancestors, may the memory of Stan Lee be a blessing not just to his loved ones, but to the millions of fans who have adored his creations over the years.
Change sometimes comes from someone who we least expect.
Kitty Zeldis’s new novel, Not Our Kind: A Novel, was published this year. Eleanor Moskowitz and Patricia Bellamy both live in New York City just after the end of World War II, but their worlds are vastly different. Eleanor is a first generation American, the daughter of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. In spite of the antisemitism she experienced, Eleanor persevered in receiving a quality education and entering the workforce. Patricia Bellamy is an upper middle class WASP whose daughter is recovering from Polio and desperately needs a private tutor to ensure that her child is educated.
Fate bring them together during a minor car accident. Eleanor needs a job and Patricia needs to hire a new tutor for her daughter ASAP. Though Eleanor gets along well with Patricia as her employer and Margeaux as her student, not everything is peachy keen. Eleanor must hide her identity via an alternative surname so she can go to work. Then there is Patricia’s husband, Wynn, who may be suspicious of Eleanor because of her faith. On top of all that, there is romance between Eleanor and Patricia’s brother, Tom.
This powder keg of emotion and drama is set off by one night at the Bellamy’s summer-house in Connecticut. The explosion that occurs that night will force both women to make difficult decisions that will impact their lives for years to come.
I truly loved this book. Not only was I immediately sucked into this world, but I understood how both Eleanor and Patricia saw the world. The details were fantastic. The ending was enough to tie the narrative threats together while not not being predictable.
I absolutely recommend it. It is a must read.
If we are lucky, we find the person whom not only makes us happy, but whom we will hopefully spend the rest of our lives with.
In the new book, We Are Going to Be Lucky A World War II Love Story in Letters, Lenny and Diana Miller were both first generation Jewish Americans who met and married just as World War II was starting to heat up. The book is a series of letters compiled by their daughter, Elizabeth L. Fox. Both born in New York City, both Lenny and Diana’s parents were Eastern European Jews who immigrated to America at the turn of the 20th century.
After they married, Lenny, like many young men of his generation, joined the Armed Forces. While Lenny was in the army, he and Diana communicated through letters. While Lenny wrote about his life in the military, Diana kept her husband abreast from news at home, especially the news regarding the birth of their daughter. After returning from the war, Lenny and Diana had a son and remained married until he died in 1990.
This book is absolutely fascinating. It illuminates the daily life of an ordinary couple who kept their love alive with the war going on, knowing that at any moment, Lenny might have given his life for his country.
I recommend it.
The few that survived Auschwitz relied on wit, skill or just plain chance.
Lale Sokolov is one of the few who did survive Auschwitz. He did so by becoming the Tätowierer (responsible for carving the numbers into the arms of his fellow prisoners). His story is recounted in the novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Written by Heather Morris, the book follows Lale from his first days at the notorious death camp until the end of the war when he and the rest of the survivors are freed from captivity. Instead of outright murdering him, the Germans use his multi-lingual ability for their own uses.
While this is happening, Lale is trying to save as many of his fellow prisoners while he is falling in love with another prisoner, Gita. It is their relationship and mutual love that helps him to stay alive when he knows that death is all around him.
This book is amazing. If nothing else, it is a reminder that hope and love can still exist when it seems impossible that neither should exist.
I absolutely recommend it.