"Suite Francaise" and "The Long Way Home"

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Irene Nemirovsky was a successful writer in France when WWII started, but being Jewish was arrested and murdered at Auschwitz before this book was published. The manuscript went undiscovered until decades later when it was found and published in France in 2004. This translation to English was published in 2007 and it has now been translated and published in countries around the world.

The story of the German invasion of France is told from the points of view of seven different people/families. Corbin is a banker in Paris and his mistress, Arlette, is a dancer. Mr. and Mrs. Michaud work for Corbin and have a son, Jean Marie, who is serving as a soldier in France. Gabriel Corte is a renowned author who is used to having things his way. Charlie Langelet lives in luxury and "loved nothing in this world but his porcelain collection.". Madeline and Cecile Sabarie live in the countryside on a farm where they nurse the Michaud's son back to health after he is injured. The Angellier family live near the Sabarie's farm, in a small town overrun by people fleeing Paris after the invasion.

Each story vividly describes what it was like to be in those particular circumstances when the panic of invasion set in. The detail given to each situation breathes life into these pages and lets the reader sense at least a little of what people must have been feeling. So many ordinary things, daily habits and activities were turned upside down by the German takeover, things we who have not experienced war have never had to think about. It's a vibrant novel, full of real life and real tragedy, that thankfully never becomes too sentimental. I won't call it entertaining because of the subject matter, but I will say it's a well written, highly readable novel that will hold your attention from start to finish.

The Long Way Home by Robin Pilcher

This book was slightly disappointing. I love Rosamunde Pilcher's novels, but didn't find this one, written by her son, lived up to it's hype.

It is said to be written "in the tradition of his mother" but something is missing. It has all the Britishness that I find so appealing, the house in Scotland, the manners and mannerisms, and the language, but it fell flat. There was no edge, no sparkle, no special something to make it memorable.

It's not that I didn't like it at all, in fact I might read another of his novels sometime when I'm looking for something light and easy to read. It just doesn't have the substance that I like to find in novels and that I usually did find in Rosamunde's.  

"Heaven, Your Real Home"

Heaven, Your Real Home by Joni Eareckson Tada

One of my goals this year is to do more spiritual reading but I didn't want to give up other books to do it, so in January I began reading a bit each morning from one of the books on my "spiritual" shelf. I won't get through these books quickly, but then I don't really want to. I want to absorb what they say and put to use in my life the things I'm learning.

I think I chose this one to start with because I have days when I really don't want to be here anymore and I thought a book about Heaven might give me something to look forward to, Carrying an image of Heaven in my head makes it easier to push my body through one more day of pain and frustration on earth. Not that every day is frustrating. I do have pain every day, but some days I feel better than others and can do a few things without paying too dearly for it. Other days, as anyone with chronic illness will tell you, it's just pushing and pushing some more to get through the day.

This book did help get my mind off the troubles of earthly life and get me thinking more about Heaven. I'm a picky reader and didn't find it terribly well written, but the content did made a difference some days. The author has learned to live with quadriplegia while maintaining a healthy outlook and still contributing to society. She has purpose and hope, though there are times when she'd like to get this life finished and move on to the next. She has bad moments in a positive life. I was getting to where I had good moments in a negative life, and I needed to read this book at this time to get me looking up a bit more.  

"Doris Day - Her Own Story"

Doris Day - Her Own Story by A.E. Hotchner

You just never know when you're going to pick up one of "those" books, the ones you don't want to put down and when you have to, you can't wait to pick it up again. These are the books that make reading fun and I have to say I surely didn't expect to find one of those books between these covers.

I love biographies and autobiographies because every individual is endlessly fascinating. No-one's story is what you expect and I love the surprises, even the disappointing ones and there are always a few of those. Doris Day is someone I heard a lot about when I was a child. She was making movies while I was growing up, so I remember her on tv and radio. She had a unique voice, warm and earthy, yet light. If you've never heard her sing, find a recording of Que Sera Sera online and listen to it. She sings quite unlike anyone else. She was endearing as both an actress and a singer, but I knew there had to be more to her than the sweet, smiling girl she always seemed to be. I came across this book online somewhere for just a few dollars and couldn't resist. It's a bit of a mess with a torn cover and yellowed pages and that never makes me eager to read a book, but once I read the first couple of pages, I was hooked.

The book was actually written by A.E. Hotchner, who interviewed her over a period of time, then put the book together from the point of view of Doris telling the story. Hotchner probably deserves the credit for the good writing, but she is one articulate lady as well. It was intelligent, well-paced and absolutely fascinating to read.

As one would expect, Doris Day's life was much more complex than her public image would suggest. A lot of young girls wanted to be her and have what they thought must be the glamorous lifestyle of a famous movie star, but no one would want to face the things she actually suffered in her life. Sure, she knew famous people and she made a lot of money, but the turmoil in her personal life was nothing to covet. She's bounced back from more than most people will ever have to face. Now, at 91 years old, she spends her time working with the Doris Day Animal Foundation raising money for people and organizations who help animals. (At the end of the book she had eleven dogs living with her!)  

I'd give this book pretty high marks. It's easy to read, it's personal and honest and it has lots of photographs showing Doris at every stage of her life. It's just about everything you'd want in a biography.

"Watership Down"

Watership Down by Richard Adams

This is a classic children's novel but I didn't read it till it made my Book Club's 2015 reading list. Actually the only reason it was on that list is because I put it there. I've wanted to read it for a long time, but you know what it's like - there's always something else, or a dozen something elses, that need reading first.

I usually begin reading our book club book one week before our meeting. That gives me time to finish it but not enough time to forget what I wanted to say about it. (Growing older is, as Betty Davis said, not for wimps.) This time I left it too late and didn't start it till Sunday. Our meeting is on Wednesday evening. I had just enough time to finish it if I read 125 pages every day. Monday turned out to be a write off of a day so Tuesday and Wednesday I had to read it skimming over some of the descriptions (which were beautiful) and mindlessly barreling through the rest. I was able to take part in the discussion at book club but I felt like I'd cheated myself out of a really good read.

It was comical to hear comments on the title when we had our meeting. Some thought it would have something to do with a ship or submarine and had no idea it was a children's story about rabbits. Watership Down is a location in England. It's where the rabbits in the book make their home after they leave the warren that is about to be destroyed by construction equipment.

The book tells their story as they struggle to find a new home. They meet and escape from various predators. They are taken captive and have to use their wits to make their way to freedom again. Some are lost, some injured, but they keep going, learning to trust their own, and each other's , strengths and talents. Themes of friendship, loyalty and perseverance come through clearly and make for a story that children would find both exciting and satisfying. I found the short epilogue at the end to be one of the most beautiful parts of the book. A little bit sad, but in the very best way.

I think this beautiful story could be read by 9 or 10 year olds on their own, and could be read to younger children in segments. It's well written and the rabbit characters are lovable, but imperfect. I wish I had given it the time and attention it deserves. As quoted on the cover in the picture above: "Everyone who can read English should read it."

"The Bell Jar"

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I had this book on my Kobo reader, thinking I'd read a chapter every night before I went to sleep. Problem is, I couldn't stop once I started. I did the one chapter a night thing for about three nights and couldn't stand it anymore. The next day I started it over again and read the whole thing in a couple of sittings. It's absolutely fascinating. The author writes with such an authentic voice that I think most people who read it must find something of themselves in Esther Greenwood, the main character.

Esther is an attractive, intelligent college student trying to cope with life as her mental health declines. Her downward spiral is so well described that you question it's even happening at first. It's realistic to the point that it seems normal. All of us have had some of these thoughts at one time or another, or at least thoughts similar to Esther's. Eventually though, the darkness descends and you realize things are not normal anymore.

The Bell Jar was first published in 1963, but it's one of those I missed somehow and only got around to reading now. Most of you have probably read it, but if you haven't, really, you have to get yourself a copy. It's brilliant, emotional and tragic. It is said to mirror the author's own struggle with mental illness, a comparison hard to argue when you consider that Sylvia Plath took her own life a month after publication.

I'll never forget this stunning story.
Read it.