Friday, March 29, 2013

Betsy and the Great World

Finished Betsy and the Great World, the ninth book of Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy series. It's 1914 and Betsy is now 22. She went to the U for a few years, but left and she and Joe have had some sort of falling out. She is at loose ends. Her father suggests a trip to Europe. She is to have a professor and his spinster sister as her chaperones. Just before sailing out of Boston harbor, Betsy catches a glimpse of Joe, now a journalist in Boston, interviewing a famous writer who is on board. She tries to catch his eye, but doesn't succeed. At the beginning of her trip she is lonely and seasick, but once the sea cooperates she is able to get up and explore the ship. She makes many friends and enjoys the people watching.

Once oversees she visits various places such as Munich, Venice, Paris and London, staying in each for quite a long while. Much of the time she is barely chaperoned at all and she has tremendous fun going and seeing and doing everything she has always dreamed of doing in Europe. She also has several close calls in the love department. Towards the end of her trip, while she is in London, England declares war on German. In the midst of this she and Joe make up their differences via letter/newspaper advertisement and she then sets sail for home.

I really enjoyed this book. I think it was Betsy's coming of age. Taking her out of Deep Valley and The Crowd gave her a chance to grow up a bit, open herself up to new ideas and unfamiliar cultures. The gap between senior year at Deep Valley High and this trip was a bit baffling, but there was a four year gap in between the writing of this and the previous book. All the other books had been written one a year. This is a must read for Betsy-Tacy fans.

The Postmistress

Finished The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. Set just before America enters World War II, it is the story of three women, a newlywed who has finally found a home after losing her parents as a small child, a reporter based in London during the worst of The Blitz, and a single, orderly postmistress on Cape Cod. Their stories intertwine in surprising ways. This book is both compelling and deeply upsetting. Blake's descriptions of The Blitz are shockingly real. Her characters are so genuinely human, especially Frankie Bard, radio reporter working with Edward R. Murrow in London. She's brassy and game for anything in terms of a real assignment. When she gets it in the form of recording the stories of Jewish refugees traversing Europe trying to find a way out, she spends several weeks riding in trains with them, recording their voices and is left to guess at their fates.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Battle of Life: A Love Story

Finished The Battle of Life: A Love Story, my 2012 Dickens read. Published in 1846, it's one of Dickens' Christmas Books. Like Alcott's Moods which I just finished, The Battle of Life features a threesome of young people in love, Alfred, and sisters Grace and Marion. Rather than marry the wrong person, Marion who is promised to Albert, stages an elopement with another man in order to set the scene for Albert and Grace to fall in love. Marion is then lost to her family for six years. She is thought to be the wife of Michael Warden, a questionable young man who has left England. In reality she has been living, unmarried, with her Aunt Martha until the lives of Albert and Grace are fully and happily entwined. She then returns to her family to reveal her selfless plan. While she loved Alfred dearly, she knew that Grace was the right wife for him, not herself.

I began reading this novella back in December, but put it down in the business of things. Having now finished it I can say it was a pleasant read with lovely illustrations by a variety of artists. The plot of misunderstandings had a decidedly Shakespearean lilt to it.

Monday, March 18, 2013


Finished Moods by Louisa May Alcott. This was Alcott's first published novel. It originally appeared in 1864, but was later heavily revised by the author and the updated version appeared in 1882. Like Whitman's Leaves of Grass I chose to read the final revision.

Moods is a coming of age novel about Sylvia Yule, a non-conventional seventeen year old who is more tomboy than young woman. She is friends with all animals and lives a bit wildly, much to the chagrin of her older, spinster sister Prue. Prue tries time and again to tame her, but to little avail. In her best tomboy spirit Sylvia accompanies her older brother Max and his friends Adam (ehem), and Geoffrey on a sailing/camping expedition. Of course both of the friends fall in love with Sylvia. Adam, who is also unconventional, shares Sylvia's tendency towards moodiness. In the novel it is almost considered a dangerous flaw. He is a wanderer, unable to settle down physically or intellectually. Geoffrey, however, is kind, gentle and generous and lives nearby in The Manse.

Sylvia falls for Adam, attracted by his sense of adventure and lack of societal ties. But Adam goes off on one of his adventures, leaving Sylvia and Geoffrey behind. During the year he is gone Geoffrey, unaware of Sylvia and Adam's feelings for each other, tries his best to win Sylvia's heart. She resists at first, but when she begins to feel that Adam will never return, that he has forgotten her, she agrees to marry Geoffrey, thus choosing the conventional path with her family's seal of approval. All seems well at first with husband and very young wife playing house together until one day Adam returns to claim Sylvia. It is then she realizes that she has made a terrible mistake.

This novel had a heavy dose of melodrama, especially toward the end, but I still found it enjoyable. I kept wishing for modern pharmaceuticals to help all these people out.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Home: A Memoir of My Early Years

Finished Home: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews. Even though I have piles of biographies of my own to read, when my friend Tom handed this book to me to take on vacation last fall I couldn't refuse. I didn't start reading it until Christmastime, just a few pages every morning, so it took me a while to finish, but that was me. While Julie's recollections of her childhood are often upsetting, due to the adults in her life then, the book overall is a delight. I was especially interested by her recollections of being a child during World War II. Julie went from being an awkward girl given singing lessons by her stepfather, to the major financial supporter of her family in just a few short years.

Throughout the book Julie's voice rings true. I heard it in my head as I read. We learn about her days in vaudeville and radio, her time in the Broadway and London productions of My Fair Lady, the landmark television production of Roger's and Hammerstein's Cinderella, and the Broadway production of Camelot. As the book ends Julie, her husband Tony, and their infant daughter Emma are on their way to Disney Studios to begin work on the film Mary Poppins. So much happens in such a short time and this is just a small fragment of Julie's life and career. I found this book charming and dear, and I recommend it highly.

World's End

Finished World's End, Upton Sinclair's first book in his Lanny Budd series. Last year I read the third book, Dragon's Teeth, as part of my chronological Pulitzer project and loved it. When I finished I was eager to know more about Lanny and how he came to be the man he is in book three.

This first book tells how the three boyhood friends, Lanny (American), Kurt (German), and Rick (British) meet and struggle to maintain their friendship in face of war and shifting loyalties. Lanny's story begins when he is thirteen in 1913 and continues through World War I and into the League of Nations negotiations, in which Lanny plays a minor role. Throughout we meet famous figures like George Bernard Shaw, Isadora Duncan, Woodrow Wilson, George Clemenceau, and Lloyd George. Lanny finds himself pulled into behind the scenes intrigues with Bolsheviks and spies, some closer to home than he expects.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Language of Flowers

Finished The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. I enjoyed this book, although it was a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me.

I remember a whole wall of this book displayed on the first floor of the Barnes & Noble on Madison Avenue in New York City, in the fall of 2012. It had been a while since Borders' Ann Arbor headquarters had closed. I felt the need to be in a big, beautiful bookstore and waited outside for 20 minutes until it opened on Saturday morning. I thought about buying the book then, but already had so many others with me for the trip that I declined.

As an orphan, Victoria Jones has been shunted around from foster home to group home most of her life. Her case worker warns her when she is ten, that going to live with Elizabeth at the vineyard is her last chance. The situation turns out much better than Victoria expected. She learns to trust Elizabeth and learns all about the Victorian practice of sending messages via flowers. Each flower has a meaning, some of them not very favorable. Just when Victoria thinks she has found her place in the world things go terribly wrong and she finds herself once more a victim of a less than perfect social services system.

Emancipated at eighteen, Victoria focuses her whole life on flowers. She starts her own garden in a public park where she sleeps, spends hours studying texts on the Victorian language of flowers at the public library, and lands a job with a local florist whose customers realize that this strange young girl is preparing more than just bouquets for them. When Victoria meets a man who "speaks her language," the encounter sets in motion an unexpected future and reconciliation of the past

When I was growing up I was fascinated with my mother's edition of The Language of Flowers and have my own copy now. It sits on the table in my upstairs reading nook.

Too bad all these varieties are not still available for the conveying of secret messages.