Tuesday, July 7, 2020

A Few More Books...and finished the library reading challenge

28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand

So finally got to my annual summer Elin Hilderbrand new release - and it was definitely a good one. Modelled on the movie, Same Time Next Year, the novel tells the story of the 28 Labour Day weekends that Mallory Blessing and Jake McCloud spend together.

They first meet when Mallory inherits a house on Nantucket from her aunt, a lesbian who was rejected by the rest of Mallory's family when she came out. Mallory hosts her brother's bachelor party on the island and Jake, his college friend is in attendance. For a variety of reasons they are left alone for most of the weekend and develop a strong bond. Though Jake returns to his life, and his girlfriend Ursula, who becomes his wife, he promises to return every year no matter what. And despite near misses, he does.

In between visits Mallory becomes a teacher at a local school, develops close friendships and has the odd relationship but never anything permanent. She also has a son - since his father is a bit of a surprise, I won't give that away. The novel starts in the last summer when her son is asked by Mallory, who is on her deathbed, to call a number in a drawer. When he does, to his surprise, Jake answers. By this time Jake's wife is running for President and Mallory's son had no idea his mother knew him.

While Mallory and Jake are obviously deceitful, they come across as good people who have this one flaw - and you really wish they could have just ended up together (at least I did). While we get the details of many of the summer visits, some of the chapters deal only with what is going on in Mallory or Jake's lives during the rest of the year.  That way we get a more clear picture of who they are. We also see that they stick by their vow only to contact each other at another time in the event of marriage, pregnancy or death.

I like how Hilderbrand started each chapter with references to what was going on in the year of the chapter - everything from politics, to music, TV and movies. It was particularly poignant how 2001 only dealt with 9/11 since that was such an overarching story in that year.

All in all a great book, though quite a sad ending.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

While a historical book, it reads like an adventure or thriller which makes it easy to read despite its length. The book covers two of Churchill's years as the British Prime Minister, 1940 and 1941. The years are crucial as it is then that the UK is under air attack by Germany (particularly what became known as the London Blitz) and feels the threat of a land invasion.

The amount of research Larson did is immense.  In the foreword he states that every work in quotation marks came from someone's diary; while every facial or body language reaction was recorded by someone at the time. And through these sources he paints a detailed picture of the Blitz, Churchill's family and political life, Churchill's decision making process, including his approaches to President Roosevelt, and even Nazi strategy.

I found this highly educational - while I knew about the Blitz in a fairly general sense, I had no idea of the details. Larsen filled in the blanks with times, places and extent of the damage. It also taught me about many larger aspects of the war that I had never considered (e.g. a lengthy section about what happened to France's naval ships that were at sea when Germany successfully invaded).

Personally I enjoyed the details about Churchill's family life, as well (most gleaned from diaries maintained by his youngest daughter, Mary). I felt it humanized the book.

While this is a long book, I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in this era in history. As I said, because of the way it is written, it reads more like a thriller than a dry history book.  I found myself anxious to know what happened next (even though, of course, none of it is truly a surprise).

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Since this book is probably universally known, at least amongst English language readers, I won't spend that much time on it.  I chose it for the last category in the library reading challenge - a book that is older than you are. Having seen the latest movie last winter, and come across a 150th Anniversary Edition while browsing a New York City book store, I decided to reread it. It was, of course, at least 40 years since I last read it.

Looking at it in today's light, it is hard to imagine that this was intended for children (or even young adults). The language is just so dense - though the subject matter is appropriate.  It is also so blatantly moralizing that I'm not sure how young adults of the day could stand all the messages being hammered into their heads.

That being said, it's a classic, and everyone should probably read a classic now and then.  This edition also contained very helpful brief essays at the end putting several themes into context (e.g., women as writers, religion, poverty, the Civil War). Remembering the context makes it easier to digest the blatant sexism.

The Lies that Bind by Emily Giffin

I quite enjoyed this latest novel by Giffin.  I don't want to give a way too much (the lies in the title are best unravelled as you read), but I will give a brief review.

In the spring of 2001, Cecily, a woman in her late 20s, cannot sleep because she is reeling from a recent break up.  So she gets up and goes into a local dive bar for a drink.  When she is about to dial her ex, Gavin sneaks up behind her and tells her not to do it - somehow surmising her intent. She complies and they spend the night together (as friends) - and develop both a deep emotional attachment and physical attraction.

Over the course of the summer their relationship grows, despite Gavin travelling to London with his ill brother. He returns on September 10, 2001 and spends a few blissful hours with Cecily before leaving her while she's still asleep.  And then the worst happens - after the planes fly into the twin towers Cecily cannot locate Gavin.

After several days of searching she sees a missing person poster with his face on it.  She calls the number on the poster - and this leads her both to continue her search for Gavin and to question how well she actually knew him.  Multiple layers of secrets are revealed (some hers and some Gavin's) by the end.

As an aside, one of my favourite characters was Cecily's gay best childhood friend.  He was warm, funny, supportive and the kind of friend everyone should have.

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