Maisie Dobbs

Winspear, Jacqueline. Maisie Dobbs. Narrated by Rita Barrington. Hampton, NH: BBC Audiobooks America, 2005.

Reason read: March is International Women’s Month. I am also reading this for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading Challenge. The category is “a cozy mystery.” I took “cozy” to mean a mystery without violence; no bombs exploding or crazy gun fights. Nothing fast paced; no cars screaming around corners on two wheels. Maybe “cozy” includes a sleeping cat or a steaming cup of tea.

Nancy Pearl should have included Maisie Dobbs in her list of characters she would like to befriend because I would like to hang out with Ms Dobbs myself. Maisie is one of those can’t-do-wrong girls that everyone, men and women alike, fall in love with. She is smart, pretty, loyal, and keenly perceptive.
We first meet Maisie Dobbs in 1910. After her mother dies, Maisie, at the age of thirteen, takes a job as a maid for Lady Rowan Compton. Living in the Compton mansion is a far cry from her father’s humble costermonger home and inquisitive Maisie can’t help but explore every richly decorated room, especially the well stocked library. Night after night she is drawn to sneaking down the stairs and taking advantage of the massive collection. When discovered, Lady Rowan does not seek punishment. Rather, recognizing a talent for learning, rewards Maisie with extensive tutoring from family friend, Maurice Blanche. Blanche is a private investigator who uses psychology and acute observation to solve mysteries. Maisie becomes his apprentice and subsequently takes over the business after Blanche’s retirement. One case takes Maisie back to her days as a volunteer nurse during the Great War. The plot takes a turn down memory lane as Maisie’s wartime ghosts are revealed. A second mystery concerning the love of Maisie’s life emerges.
War is a constant character throughout Maisie Dobbs, whether the reader is looking back to Maisie’s volunteer work as a nurse in France, or looking ahead to the mysterious retreat for disfigured veterans. The psychology of war is ever present.

Favorite line, “Dawn is a home when soft veils are draped across reality, creating illusion and cheating truth” (p 249).

Author fact: Winspear wrote a ton of books but I am only reading Maisie Dobbs for the Book Lust Challenge.

Book trivia: Maisie Dobbs is Winspear’s first novel and won an Edgar Award.

Nancy said: Pearl said Winspear does a outstanding job of conveying post-World War I English society. I would also add Winspear does an outstanding job of conveying post traumatic stress and other debilitating effects of war.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).


African Queen

Forester, Cecil Scott. The African Queen. New york: The Modern Library, 1940.

Reason read: I needed a classic I’ve always wanted to read for the Portland Public Library 2019 Reading challenge. This one fit the bill. And, and! And, it was short!

Who doesn’t know the movie version of this book? Thanks to Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and a little Academy Award for Best Actor, everyone has seen it. Nearly everyone that is, except me. Fear not, it’s on the list.

To set the stage: Africa, World War I. Rose is high spirited, a spunky woman despite being a strait-laced and virginal missionary’s sister. She is out for revenge for the death of her brother; she wants to torpedo the Germans to strike a blow for England. Enter gin-swilling mechanic Charlie Allnut and his river boat, the African Queen. Rose is only too eager to learn all about the African Queen to determine its full usefulness to exact her revenge – torpedoing the German police boat, the Konigin Luise. Rose’s patriotism and lust for adventure adds up to a woman Allnut has never seen the likes of before. She somehow convinces him to take on her quest and it is her feisty nature that gets her and Allnut through deadly rapids, thick mangroves, choking weeds, malaria infested swarms of mosquitoes and stifling heat down the Bora delta.
Typical and predictable, a relationship blooms between Rose and Charlie, but how could it not when confined on a river boat for days on end? As they say, misery loves company. Despite seeing the relationship a mile away Forester reissued his story so that he had the opportunity to present the end of the story as he originally intended. It’s not what you expect.

Lines I just had to quote, “Allnut tried to keep his amusement out of sight” (p 39), while Rose was described thusly, “A woman sewing has a powerful weapon at her disposal when engaged in a duel with a man” (p 91). He’s bumbling and she’s feisty.
More lines I liked, “Allnut would not have exchanged Rose for all the fried fish shops in the world” (p 165). Aint romance grand?

As an aside, I just love an author who uses the word willynilly.

Author fact: C.S. Forester might be better known for his Horatio Hornblower sea adventures.

Book trivia: The African Queen was made into a movie in 1951 as I mentioned before.

Nancy said: Pearl only mentioned The African Queen because Forester is known for it, above and beyond his Horatio Hornblower series.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Sea Stories” (p 217). As you guessed it, I deleted this from the Challenge list because The African Queen takes place on an African river, not the high seas.


By May

I thought May was going to be a disaster. The first two and a half weeks were nothing but rain and way cooler temps. I worried about my garden. I didn’t feel like running. It felt like a downward spiral. I ended up running only 28 miles and running away to Monhegan for a week so it ended better than it began. But…it’s still raining.

“…when May is rushing over you with desire to be part of the miracles you see in every hour” ~ Natalie Merchant, These are Days.

“I wanted to be there by May, at the latest. April is over. Can you tell me how long before I can be there?” ~ Natalie Merchant, Painted Desert.

Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • H by Elizabeth Shepard (read in one day)
  • Nerve by Dick Francis (read in two days)
  • A Gay and Melancholy Sound by Merle Miller

Nonfiction:

  • Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves
  • Age of Gold by HW Brands
  • Lusitania: an epic tragedy by Diana Preston

Series continuation:

  • “Q” is for Quarry by Sue Grafton (finished the series)
  • As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee (okay, so I didn’t know this was part of a trilogy).

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • At the Broken Places by Mary and Donald Collins

Good-Bye to All That

Graves, Robert. Good-Bye to All That: an autobiography. New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, Inc., 1929.

Reason read: Memorial Day is May 29th this year. Read in honor of remembering World War I veterans. Robert Graves is one to remember.

Robert Graves decided to tell his autobiography when he was a mere 34 years old. After experiencing the horrors of World War I he must have felt he had lived a lifetime by the time he was in his 30s. His descriptions of early trench-warfare and as one example, the crude, ineffective gas masks are haunting. Despite it all, Graves was able to keep some decency about him. This is evident when he was unable to shoot a German soldier who was bathing. There was something about the man’s nakedness that unnerved Graves. And yet, he had a job to do…
Authors usually don’t take the time to describe their picture in a book. Robert Graves explains why his nose is large and crooked (broken twice & operated on once) and why one shoulder dips lower (courtesy of a lung wound). He makes modest statements about how the world sees him (like how he broke two front teeth when he was thirteen) as if to offer apologies for his face. Despite these descriptions the most obvious is that World War I was not easy on Robert Graves. One look at his 1929 photograph on the frontispiece of Good-Bye to All That and one can tell he was a broken man by the time the picture was taken. His haunted staring eyes speak volumes.
But, probably the biggest surprise about Graves’s autobiography was the humor. I don’t know if he meant to be funny but if not, he succeeded without trying.

Two lines that left me dumbstruck, “My dedication is an epilogue” (dedication page) and “The objects of this autobiography, written at the age of thirty-three, are simple enough: an opportunity for a formal good-bye to you and to you and to you and to me and to all that…” (p 1).
The definition of courage: “I had a bad head for heights and trained myself deliberately and painfully to overcome it…I have worked hard on myself in defining and dispersing terrors” (p 48).

As an aside, I am currently reading another book that takes place during World War I simply called Lusitania. Graves mentions the tragic events surrounding the torpedoing of the ocean liner in Good-Bye to All That but admits, “As for the Lusitania, the Germans gave her full warning, and if it brings the States into the war, it’s all to the good” (p 247).

Author fact: I don’t know when I first read anything by Robert Graves, but I do know when I really heard him and absorbed his words for the very first time. I heard him with ears wide open when Natalie Merchant decided to put his poem “Vain and Careless” to music. Incidentally, this was the first time I heard of the game Bob Cherry, too.

Book trivia: Good-Bye to All That has trench maps which put Robert’s ordeal into perspective for me.

Nancy said: Nancy said Graves wrote about his “disillusioning experiences” (p 154).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Living Through War” (p 154).


Birdsong

Faulks, Sebastian. Birdsong. Read by Peter Firth. New Hampshire: Chivers North America Audio Books, 2000.

Birdsong is broken into seven different sections covering three different periods of main character Stephen Wraysford’s life, 1910, 1916 – 1918, and 1978 – 1979 (the last being through the eyes of his granddaughter, Elizabeth). When we first meet Stephen in 1910 he is a young Englishman sent to France to observe operations at a textile mill in Amiens. It is there that he meets the beautiful and lonely Mrs. Isabelle Azaire. From the moment they meet, their attraction to one another is instantaneous and unavoidable. Even an innocent activity like pruning in the garden speaks volumes of what is to come. It isn’t long before the two give in to their carnal desires and commit adultery. If you are shy about sex scenes, there are a few you may want to skip. The second encounter in the library is pretty racy! The attraction between the lovers is so strong that Isabelle runs away with Stephen, only to be wracked by guilt causing her to leave him a short time later. We don’t know what happens to this couple after Isabelle’s leaving. This is a mystery that hangs over the next section of Stephen’s life.
When we meet up again with Stephen it is six years later and he is a soldier, sent to work in the tunnels below enemy lines. This section of the book, covering World War I, is incredibly graphic and haunting. Faulk’s portrayals of battle are as realistic as they are heartbreaking, especially in the claustrophobic tunnels. Interspersed between Stephen’s World War I experiences is the life of his granddaughter, Elizabeth. When she becomes curious about his life she sets out to learn all that she can. She ends up learning more about herself in the process. History repeats itself and comes full circle for Wraysford’s legacy.

PS ~ I like the way Peter Firth reads. His voice is really pleasant. But, unlike Kirsten Potter, who read The Locust Eaters, Firth doesn’t even attempt a French accent! He does an Australian one pretty well, though.

Reason read: Austria started World War I on June 28, 1914.

Author fact: Faulks is also a journalist.

Book trivia: Birdsong is actually the second book in a trilogy. I didn’t find that out until I entered it into LibraryThing. Bad news and good news. The bad news is that the first book is not on my list. However, the good news is that the third book, Charlotte Gray, is…so I’ll read two-thirds of the trilogy. Pearl makes no mention of these two books being connected.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War I (fiction)” (p 250).

As an aside, I always think of the Grateful Dead when I hear the word “birdsong” and I am filled with nostalgia. When my husband and I were first dating I took him home to Monhegan. He brought along a video camera and made a music video of the island with Birdsong playing in the background. The video starts with me sitting on the floor in the old apartment trying to pack. So long ago!


Deafening

Itani, Frances. Deafening. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003.

This story is filled with such tragedy. In Part I Grania O’Neill is just five years old when she loses her hearing after a bout with scarlet fever. Her family is desperate to make her normal, to help her fit in the the hearing world. Her grandmother and sister devote themselves to helping her cope. When it is obvious she can’t, Grania, at nine years old, is sent away to a boarding school for the deaf. Part II covers one year. The year is 1915 and Grania is now 19 and working at Gibson Hospital. She meets and marries a hearing man, Jim Lloyd. In Part III Jim has gone to help in the war effort as a medic. The violence he encounters at this time assaults his senses to the core, but it is the thought of Grania and their love that sustains him. Part IIII (that is deliberate) covers 1917 – 1918. Jim has been gone for two years and Grania remains vigilant for his letters and watchful of the changing war efforts. The book ends with Part V, 1919 and the end of the war.  So much has changed during this time. So many people have died and relationships are forever changed. I won’t spoil the end except to say it was beautifully written. A book I couldn’t put down.

Telling lines, “What she can’t see she can’t be expected to understand” (p 14), “Words fly through the air and fall, static and dead” (p 43), “He had never known a language that so thoroughly encompassed love” (p 132), and “War ground on like the headless, thoughtless monster that could not be stopped” (p 237).

Reason read: October is National Protect Your Hearing Month.

Book trivia: Deafening was written as a tribute to Itani’s grandmother who was became deaf at 18 months.

Author fact: Deafening is Frances Itani’s first book.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Other Peoples Shoes” (p 182).


August ’12 was…

August was a little of this and a little of that. Some people will notice I have made some changes to the book challenge – some changes more noticeable than others. For starters, how I review. I now add a section of why I’m reading the book. For some reason I think it’s important to include that in the review. Next, how I read. I am now adding audio books into the mix. I am allowing myself to add an audio book in “trapped” situations when holding a book and keeping my eyes on the page might be an inconvenience (like flying) or endanger someone (like driving). I’m also making a effort to avoid wasting time on books I don’t care for (like Honore de Balzac). One last change: I am not as stringent about reading something within the month. If I want to start something a little early because it’s right in front of my face then so be it.
What else was August about? August was also the month I lost my dear Cassidy for a week. I spent many a night either in an insomniac state or sitting on the back porch, reading out loud in hopes the sound of my voice would draw my calico to me. The only thing it yielded was more books finished in the month of August. She finally came home one week later.
Anyway, enough of all that. I’ll cry if I continue. Onto the books:

I started the month by reading and rereading Tattoo Adventures of Robbie Big Balls by Robert Westphal. This was the first time I read and reviewed a book after meeting the author. I wanted to get it right. I also wanted to make sure I was an honest as possible about the situation. Everything about this review was unusual. For the challenge:

  • After You’ve Gone by Alice Adams ~ I read this in three days and learned a valuable lesson about Adams’s work: read it slowly and parse it out. Otherwise it becomes redundant.
  • Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin ~ I read this in ten days, tucking myself in a study carrell and reading for an hour everyday.
  • Fahrenheit 541 by Ray Bradbury ~ an audio book that only took me nine days to listen to.
  • Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum ~ read with Wicked by Gregory Maguire. I took both of these to Maine and had oodles of car-time to finish both.
  • We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich ~ this was probably my favorite nonfiction of the challenge. Rich’s Maine humor practically jumped off the page. I read this to Cassidy.
  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder ~ I read this in three days, again hiding myself away in a study carrell.
  • Ten Hours Until Dawn by Tougis ~ another audio book. I’m glad I listened to this one as opposed to reading it. Many reviewers called it “tedious” and I think by listening to it I avoided that perspective.
  • The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson ~ I read this in two days (something I think I thought I was going to get to in June).
  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque ~ I read this in honor of World War I ending. I also read it in one night while waiting for Cassidy to come home.
  • The Lives of the Saints by Nancy Lemann ~ also read in one night. In honor of New Orleans and the month Hurricane Katrina rolled into town.
  • Kristin Lavransdatter: the Cross by Sigrid Undset ~ finally put down the Norwegian trilogy!

For the Early Review Program with LibraryThing:

  • The Most Memorable Games in New England Patriots History by Bernard Corbett and Jim Baker. This was supposed to be on my list a year ago. Better late than never.
  • Sex So Great She Can’t Get Enough by Barbara Keesling. This took me an inordinate amount of time to read. Guess I didn’t want to be seen in public with it.