"The Postmistress"

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Iris James is the Postmistress in Franklin, Massachusetts in 1940. Frankie Bard is a "radio gal" in London reporting on the nightly bombings and hoping to convince Americans to get involved. Their two lives couldn't be more different and yet they find themselves in a situation that brings them face to face and changes them both.

This book has something for everyone: romance and war, small town and big city, drama and destiny, a solid story, interesting characters and good writing. I loved it. Well most of it. There's a fair bit of cursing that I didn't think added anything to the story at all, but other than that, I really did love it.

There's a sexual scene in the book that would keep me from recommending it to younger readers and those who don't like that sort of thing in their reading. I have to say that it's done in very good taste though and is quite beautiful and not (in my opinion) lewd or obscene. The book is worth reading even if you want to skip that part when you come to it.

This is one of those books that leaves you missing the characters when you close the cover. I want very much to travel to Franklin and find Iris and have a cup of tea with her. I feel like she's someone you could just sit with and enjoy the silence. These characters are likeable, so as a reader you find yourself caring about them and it saddened me when some of them didn't survive to the end of the story. (I don't think that's a spoiler because 1] it's wartime so some deaths are expected and 2] I'm not revealing names).

As I said earlier I found the writing enjoyable to read, but I do have to mention one thing that struck me as odd. Toward the end of the book I found a whole sentence repeated and only 25 pages apart. It can't have been intentional; there seems to be no reason for it. On page 265 it says "She brought the canceling stamp down on three letters in a row with a satisfying thump, then turned and tossed what she stamped behind her in quick impatient flicks of her wrist." Then on page 290, "From the door, Frankie watched as she brought the canceling stamp down on three letters in a row with a satisfying thump, then turned and tossed what she stamped behind her in quick impatient flicks of her wrist. I don't remember ever finding a repeat like this before and I'm baffled as to how it got to the printer like that. Anybody else ever seen something like this?

All in all I do recommend this book highly. I found it a very satisfying read and am looking forward to seeing what else this authour has to offer.  


"The Poems Of John Keats"

The Poems Of John Keats

It seems I have found a poet I don't like at all. I know his poetry is loved by many, but I fear I will not be one of them. Granted I have read only the 21 poems found in this book and I really don't know how many more he wrote, although dying at the way too young age of 25 didn't give him enough time to be really prolific. Poetry is such a subjective thing that it's difficult to explain why one likes some and not others but I'll try to pinpoint some of the things that kept me at arm's length.

Keats' language is too flowery and too sweet for me. It makes me wonder if he ever had simple thoughts like the rest of us, though it's probably closer to the truth that he had the simple thoughts but never thought to express them simply. When he writes about love, it positively drips. And for me there's too much talk of dew and mist and moon and such. I realize that this is all a matter of individual taste and I don't mean any disrespect to Keats or his fans. It simply doesn't appeal to me.

These poems are saturated with references to mythology and fairy tales that I am unfamiliar with. That is my lack of education of course and no fault of his, but it's a struggle to stay focused when I have no idea what he's talking about.

On a positive note I did enjoy the rather lengthy poem "To My Brother George". It was wordy but I found it easier to read than most of the others. I liked Keats' thoughts about the legacy of the poetry he will leave behind and how it may one day serve to stir people to action and inspire them to goodness. To be honest I shouldn't really say I enjoyed it, I just sort of disliked it less than the rest of the book.

I read this book through Daily Lit, a web site that will send you short installments of a book over as long or short a time period as you choose, by email. This one was sent in 21 installments whereas War and Peace has over 600 installments. I am finding it a good way to read books that I might never otherwise get to.You can check out their library at dailylit.com.

"Stories I Only Tell My Friends"

Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

I've been a huge fan of Rob Lowe since I fell in love with Sam Seaborn on The West Wing. I still believe that show is the best ever made, even better than The Waltons and I practically made them my family. I've watched all seasons of The West Wing three times and still I never watch an episode without seeing something in it that I missed before. And I've never found it hard to watch Rob Lowe for an hour. So when a friend told me about this book I was eager to read it and she generously loaned me her copy when she was finished with it.

I don't know why I don't read more biographies and autobiographies. People are so fascinating and it always amazes me that each of us is so different. There are no two lives alike among all the people who have ever lived on this planet. That's just mind-boggling to me. Every single person has a story to tell and I'd like to read them all.

In "Stories I Only Tell My Friends" Rob Lowe talks about how he grew up, got into show business and all the ups and downs a life in the public eye brings with it. He is candid about his wild days of drinking, drugs and sex but it's told tastefully. He isn't bragging about those times but using them to illustrate how money and fame can insulate a person from reality and lead to unhealthy excesses that could destroy your life. Fortunately, he was able to get off that road and start making wiser choices.

We meet a lot of other well known actors who were in Lowe's life at various times. He was a neighbour of Marin Sheen and his sons Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez, and while still in his teens he worked with Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, and Patrick Swayze. I had no idea he had started acting at such an early age and to tell the truth I had never heard most of what he reveals in this story. I guess that means I'm not so great a fan because it seems to me that diehard fans of actors, musicians and sports figures know every little detail of their hero's lives. I just knew he was really cute.

It came as a complete shock to me as I read that I've never even seen most of the movies and tv shows he did. He's been in movies since he was 15 and I guess I didn't really know much about him at all until The West Wing started. So now I'm on a mission to educate myself in all things Rob Lowe. If you are interested in seeing what movies and tv series he's been in go to Internet Movie Database and you'll find a complete listing.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. The writing is pretty good and there is humour as well as drama. I will confess to a little disappointment that Rob Lowe is not actually Sam Seaborn. Once he matured and got his life back on track though he did become more and more the man of integrity and noble character that Sam was. It's safe to say that Rob Lowe and I will never meet so it won't hurt anyone's feelings if I keep thinking of him as my Sam. Now, back to The West Wing. Season 1. Episode 1.

"Half-Broke Horses"

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

This is the second book by this authour that I've read, the first being "The Glass Castle" which impressed me so much I put it on my list of "best books ever". This one was also good, but for me it doesn't come close to the other one.

This book is the story of Jeannette's grandmother, Lily, a tough, feisty woman who never let anything get in the way of what she wanted out of life. She grew up in the western US in the early 1900s and her life was anything but easy as she and her family tried to make a living on a cattle ranch. She learned to work hard and take care of herself and when life knocked her down, she got up, dusted herself off and moved on.

The story is told in the first person from Lily's point of view, though the authour's source of information was Lily's daughter, Rosemary (Jeannette's mother), and not Lily herself. Because of that she calls this a "true-life novel" rather than a biography or memoir. I don't think I'll be shelving it with fiction though. Having read "The Glass Castle" and met some of this book's characters in that, I definitely see it as a memoir.

Jeanette Walls is an excellent story teller. She can bring people to life and make them so vivid that you never forget them and her great writing keeps the story moving along and has, on occasion,  made me forget to stop reading and go to bed. I thoroughly enjoy reading her work and I hope there will be a lot more of it.

 From what I've read about this book on other blogs the majority of readers finish the book impressed with Lily's grit and head-on way of dealing with life. I, too, can admire her, but from a distance. I don't think she and I would ever have been friends because she intimidates the heck out of me. She's so confident and capable and brave, all things I want to be but, alas, am not. She had some pretty good theories about life though and at times showed real wisdom. My favourite quote is "When someone's wounded, the first order of business is to stop the bleeding. You can figure out later how best to help them heal."

I read this mostly because "The Glass Castle" got to me in a very personal way and I wanted to know more about Jeannette's background so I could try to understand some things. Well, that and my book club chose it for July's selection. I'm glad I read it. It did shed more light on Jeannette's family history and what made her mother (Rosemary) the very unique woman, and incredibly strange mother, that she is.

I recommend this authour highly. I think anyone who appreciates a good story would enjoy "Half Broke Horses" as well as "The Glass Castle".

"Therefore Choose"

Therefore Choose by Keith Oatley

George is a medical student at Cambridge where he meets and becomes good friends with Werner, a German boy also attending Cambridge. In the summer of 1936, George travels with Werner to Werner's home where the growing military force is visible everywhere and political tensions are rising.

There Werner introduces George to his friend Anna and George falls in love. The rest of the book tells the story of how George, Werner and Anna's relationships develop and change in the pressure cooker that was Europe in the late 1930's and throughout the war.

I've read a lot of books set in wartime, but it isn't often we get a look at WWII from inside Germany and from the viewpoint of German citizens. The authour gives us an interesting glimpse into what war does to people and the kind of group thinking it is so easy to get caught up in. The book also looks at the dynamics of friendship and love and how they are altered by war and the decisions we have to make to survive.

I liked this book because it's a quiet story. There are no dramatic battle scenes or things blowing up; it's more the philosophy of war and friendship and love. The story unfolds in what the characters think, feel and discuss so it's not a page turner, but it is a thoughtful, insightful book, well written and well worth reading. I like quiet books. I love quiet books and would be happy to find more of them.   

I would never have chosen this book because I really don't like the cover. Sad isn't it (me, not the cover)? Fortunately I won this copy in a contest hosted by John at bookmineset and since it's a Canadian authour (not born in Canada, but now living here) I decided to make it my first selection for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge, which is also hosted by the same site. So, thanks John; it was a very good read.