Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Bookish October

Happy November! We move deeper into autumn now, and of course I am thrilled.

We did not get any trick-or-treaters last night. I'd thought we might, and had gotten candy just in case (just one bag). It will not go to waste!

I read some good books in October and here is part 1 of that list.
The Farm in the Green Mountains by Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer
This is a recently reissued book that was originally published in German in 1949 and translated into English for a 1968 publication. The author wrote an epilogue for the later edition. The author and her husband were well known and well off in Germany. He was a successful writer and they had servants, a few different houses in different countries, and a pretty cushy life. They ended up at their home in Austria when the Nazis came to power, but after a few years, they had to flee. They went to the US where they tried living in New York City and LA, where they thought he might be able to write for Hollywood. These places did not work out for them--he was not interested in doing the kind of writing Hollywood required. They spent a couple of summers in rural Vermont and decided to try to find a house there. One day, while on a walk, he found it and brought the author to see it. They talked to the owner of the old farmhouse, who agreed to modernise it and rent it to them, along with 190+ acres. They had to learn how to run a farm. They focused on various fowl, pigs, and goats. He wrote when he could, which wasn’t often. They knew nothing, so relied heavily on local friends and the USDA. The book came about because Alice would write long letters to family in Germany. Her brother eventually had them published in a magazine and she was asked to make this material into a book. For me, the best parts were the chapter about how much the library meant to her and what she had to go through to go spend a day there to do research into topics that interested her, as well as the final chapters. In the last chapter of the original, they’d moved to Switzerland and she was thinking about who she was and how her time in Vermont had changed her and what it had taught her. In the epilogue, they’d gone back to the farmhouse, but realised that they could not stay, so she was on her way back to Switzerland--she had further thoughts on her life as a result of these experiences.

Bird by Jane Adams
Bird is a married mother of twins who is back at her childhood home because her grandfather is dying. He seems to be obsessed with the image of a woman hanging from a tree. Tensions mount and Bird leaves her grandparents’ home to go back to her own, but she is determined to find out what it is that her grandfather is so disturbed about. Her husband and her father help her. As the book progresses, we learn about the dysfunctional relationships between family members from various perspectives. Segments of the book are memories of Jack, the grandfather and others are letters that he wrote to Bird but never sent. I took this book with me when Bill and I went away for a few days and started it in the B&B one night. I had to force myself to put it down and go to sleep. The story kept on moving until the very end.

The Seagull by Ann Cleeves
This is the latest in the author’s series of books revolving around Inspector Vera Stanhope and her colleagues. When she goes to give a talk at a prison, she comes in contact with a former bent cop who has some information for her if she will check in on his mentally fragile grown daughter. She does and the information provided opens up some old missing persons cases, so Vera and her team swing into action.

The Upstart by Catherine Cookson
I was not sure I was going to like this book. Bill found it in the wee free library one day and brought it home, even though he wasn’t sure, either! He said what made him decide to bring it home was the fact that it said on the back cover that it was a story about class attitudes and he knows that has been an ongoing interest of mine. The story (and the title) do have a lot to do with class, but also involved the ways in which the society of the time (Britain in the late 1800s-early1900s) was changing. There are also feminist aspects to the storyline, particularly evident in the character of Janet, the main character’s eldest daughter. Sam is the son and grandson of cobblers and has built something of a shoe empire. He becomes wealthy and buys a big house for his dysfunctional family to live in, even though he’s the only one who wants to move. He and the butler (left from the previous owners) have some issues, but quickly get past them as Sam realises he needs the butler to teach him how to behave properly and the butler feels he has a duty to do this. Sam and family are never really accepted into ‘society’ because he is considered an upstart. His money alone cannot make up for his working class background. This causes ongoing agitation for Sam. The family falls apart and Janet, an outspoken girl/woman who knows from an early age that she will become a librarian stands up to her father on a regular basis. There were parts of the story that seemed kind of formulaic, but overall, I ended up really liking the book. I wanted to read on to see what would happen in some of the storylines. Afterwards, I looked up the author and discovered that her life sounded quite a lot like one of her novels! Turns out she was the most borrowed author at UK libraries for many years running. When I was done with the book, Bill returned it to the wee free library, where it was scooped up within 24 hours. We see books by the author all the time in charity shops, too, so although she is now deceased, she is clearly still quite popular!

I'll post the next 4 tomorrow. In the meantime, I hope you've got some good things to read, too!

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