Welcome to my blog where I share my book reviews
and life along the winding road

Friday, December 2, 2022

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce

 In Dear  Mrs. Bird, A.J. Pearce has captured life in London during the WWII years with a keep your chin up and carry on attitude.  

The story is of Emmeline Lake and her friend Bunty. Emmeline finds a job with a women's magazine and also volunteers for the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) in the evening, assisting the firemen who are called out nightly after bombing raids. Her job at Woman's Friend is to assist Mrs. Bird in answering letters sent in by readers but Mrs. Bird is very strict about not responding to anything she finds unpleasant. Emmeline decides to write back and offer advice to some women and also to sneak in some of her responses to the magazine "help" page. In between her devious letter writing, she is also writing to her boyfriend, all of which is far removed from her goal to become a war correspondent.

My thoughts:
I liked the story and some of the situations and office procedures had changed very little from when I began work in London in the late 1960s. Calling each other by a first name could be a sackable offense especially in front of clients or customers (Are you Being Served is a good example). Most furniture was made of wood and had many splinters which was a nuisance when women could only wear skirts or dresses and nylons were often snagged on desks or desk legs. Letter writing has sadly fallen by the wayside and Twitter comments or text messages sent off without checking the contents are no replacement for the heartfelt words in a well thought out letter and letter writing played a big part in Dear. Mrs. Bird. Eventually Emmy was encouraged to write for Mr. Collins (Editor at Large) and had several articles printed but they don't appear to be in her name. Women were relegated to the "help" column or cooking section.
Although conversations were in line with the era I wasn't keen on the writing style . Phrases were indiscriminately capitalized which stopped the flow of reading. It's a shame there weren't more detailed descriptions. London would have been a plethora of sounds, smells and unusual terrain in the bombed areas. Instead, words such as gloomy, pretty wallpaper and flattened building were used. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

Ahead of the Bear by Annette Reddy

 I came across Ahead of the Bear when I was researching my mother-in-law's German family who were from Olsztyn/Allenstein. Unlike Annette's family, she didn't want to talk about her experiences fleeing from East Prussia  at  the end of WWII when the Russian army began their march into Prussia. A few details we found out over the years was the amount of people who had died strewn across the road and very little to eat. They ate lard to survive.  
Ahead of the Bear gives an account of Annette's mother, Hildegard Behrendt, and her aunt Liesel.  Other coincidences with our family is her mother's marriage to someone in the British army, her last name of Behrendt and her arrival in England in 1947. 

The trek of thousands of German refugees escaping from Prussia was horrific with little or no food, freezing temperatures, gunfire, illness and crossing ice on the Vistula Lagoon (Baltic coast) where many drowned or were shot.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Sparring Partners by John Grisham


I've always found John Grisham's book enjoyable reads with their twists and turns but the three novellas in Sparring Partners didn't, in my opinion, match his usual standards. The endings, especially in "Homecoming" seemed to trail off without much of a satisfactory ending.

In Homecoming Mack Stafford wants to return to his hometown when he finds out his ex-wife has a terminal illness, but this is not an easy task as he had initially escaped with client funds and gone underground. With the help of two lawyer friends his hopes to return with little fan fare don't pan out.

Strawberry Moon follows the last hours of a death row inmate and his lawyer's fight to save him.

Sparring Partners delves into the dysfunctional Malloy family and two brothers who are  unsuccessfully running the family law firm while their father is serving time in prison.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Queen of our Times by Robert Hardman

 Queen of our Times by Robert Hardman is, at over 600 pages, the most informative and delightful read about the Queen that I have come across. Published before her death, I wonder if the author will add an update after her sad passing.

Some see the Queen as simply a British figurehead but she was so much more than that. Her family was thrown into a direct line of the throne after King Edward VIII abdicated (some say he was persuaded by the British government to abdicate after he and Mrs. Simpson were shown to be Nazi sympathizers). After the early death of her father, Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne as a young wife and mother in her twenties. She had spent her early married life in Malta where her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, was stationed as a Royal Naval officer. She surmounted many problems early on, one of which was the weight of the silk robes at her coronation which did not glide smoothly over the high piled carpet placed in the church and after a bumpy ride in the Gold State Coach. It was a world event and even the Soviet Union ceased jamming the airwaves in order for Eastern Europe to hear the events via radio. Despite a lengthy daily schedule she made time for bath time and evening play with her children each day (which was also scheduled in her diary).

Until recently the Queen chose replacement Prime Ministers when one, such as Winston Churchill, resigned. Now the party in power choses the replacement.

Shown throughout was Queen Elizabeth's eye to detail in every event she was involved in and her memory for names and incidents often surprised those around her even in her latter years.

Throughout the book is time after time where the Queen stepped in to smooth international feathers when a political presence may have done more harm than good. One friend she was always happy to see was Nelson Mandela who stopped by for tea whenever he was in Europe. And her friendship with Ronald Reagan who both shared a love of horses. She was still riding her fell pony, Emma  shortly before her death.

Despite many monarchs leaving their thrones: Holland, Belgium, Spain, Emir of Qatar, the Queen had taken her Coronation Oath seriously and refused to step down even when ill health prevented her from touring the Commonwealth.

She has a lasting legacy of kindness, diplomacy and caring for her people and will be remembered fondly throughout the world.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy


Most of Thomas Hardy's stories I've seen in movie productions, but I've decided to start reading some of the classics. 

The Mayor of Casterbridge starts with Michael Henchard,  in a drunken stupor, selling his wife Susan and their child to a passing sailor. Regretting his decision, he vows to abstain from alcohol for 21 years. His wife and child settle into their life until the death of the sailor. Susan finds that Michael Henchard has become the mayor of Casterbridge and has never married another. This all seems to be a happy ending in the making but relationships are not as they seem to be and there many secrets uncovered. 

You can download the free e-book at Gutenburg.org

Friday, October 7, 2022

The Measure by Nikki Erlick

 The Measure by Nikki Erlick follows a group of people whose lives eventually intertwine. One day each of them receives a box along with everyone else in the world who is age 22 or older. Inside the box is a string, each of varying lengths. Before long they discover that the string represents the length of their life. As usual the government takes a crisis and makes it worse by constructing rules that people with shorter strings have to follow. Those in the military can only serve in combat duty if their strings are longer, short stringers are directed to desk duty. Researches started a database and were able to calculate an accurate date of death by the length of the string. Dating sites were  separated into short-stringers and long-stringers and support groups popped up which were designated according to the string length. 

My thoughts:
There were a few people who chose not to look in the box, although it wasn't a choice in North Korea. And once the length of life was revealed, people reacted daily to the constant bombardment from the government, media and friends. Instead of making the most of life, they were obsessed with the end date. It seems to me that there always has to be some division and pitting people against each other is the M.O. of the government with a divide and conquer mentality. In this case it was short-stringers, who were viewed as a danger with having little hope, and the long-stringers who didn't want to be associated with them. One thing surprised me was that apart from the Pope's speech at the beginning of the book, no one mentioned or turned to God or the church which I think is very unusual in the time of a major crisis. 

The best way to reduce stress is to stay away from the divisive doom and gloom media and government shenanigans, watch only church sermons that aren't focusing on "End Times Prophecy" and surround yourself with optimistic family and friends. I for one wouldn't open the box!

Friday, September 30, 2022

Mexifornia by Victor Davis Hanson

 Victor Davis Hanson
has his finger on the pulse of America and is able to explain current events with remarkable insight. Many of his Hoover Institute interviews relating to his books are available on You Tube.

Professor Hanson grew up in a generations old farm in California not far from Fresno. While his family had always been surrounded by immigrants from India, Italy, and Mexico, they worked together as a community, helping each other and encouraging assimilation into American society. What he has found now is that so many illegal immigrants bring with them what they purport to be escaping from: gangs, drugs, criminal activity. They have no respect for property and farmers are constantly trying to repair fences and damage done to crops, vandalism and break ins (he goes to local swap meets to buy back his stolen farm equipment) and the manufacture and distribution of illegal drugs. With their income in cash, they are actually making more money than minimum wage that has tax and other deductions taken from a citizen's pay check. But carrying cash can also be a problem from the illegal Hispanics as they are more likely to be robbed.

Mexico is happy to see their poorest citizens leave and send billions of dollars back to Mexico to support families there increasing their GDP while lowering ours.

Crime is exploding and over 25% of inmates are from Mexico. And hospitals are underfunded and overcrowded with people here illegally without health insurance or funds to pay health care costs. They bring with them a myriad of diseases such as whooping cough, tuberculosis, hepatitis and venereal diseases.

Hard labor on the farms wears men out by their 40s and 50s leaving them to be supported by government assistance. Men often have two families to support, one in the U.S. and another in Mexico.

With encouragement from the activists wanting liberal votes and the capitalists who want cheap labor, there is little hope to change the situation. By 2050 it is estimated there will be 97 million Hispanic people here illegally.