The Postmistress by Sarah Blake, 384 pages. Available in paperback from Berkley Trade.
On the eve of the United States's entrance into World War II in 1940, Iris James, the postmistress of Franklin, a small town on Cape Cod, does the unthinkable: She doesn't deliver a letter. In London, American radio gal Frankie Bard is working with Edward R. Murrow, reporting on the Blitz. One night in a bomb shelter, she meets a doctor from Cape Cod with a letter in his pocket, a letter Frankie vows to deliver when she returns from Germany and France, where she is to record the stories of war refugees desperately trying to escape.
The residents of Franklin think the war can't touch them- but as Frankie's radio broadcasts air, some know that the war is indeed coming. And when Frankie arrives at their doorstep, the two stories collide in a way no one could have foreseen. The Postmistress is an unforgettable tale of the secrets we must bear, or bury. It is about what happens to love during wartime, when those we cherish leave. And how every story-of love or war-is about looking left when we should have been looking right.
This book is not what I expected, it is not as straightforward as the description would have you believe, and I thought it was brilliant. Alternating between Frankie reporting from overseas and the residents of Franklin - mainly Iris, the orderly & restrained postmistress and Emma, the fragile young wife of the town doctor. It brings fresh perspective to the American buildup to World War II, and how communication, via radio reporting and letter writing, was particularly important. I found it extremely powerful, more so in what was left unwritten when curiousity is piqued and the mind wanders. Many reviews mention flat characters and while I would have liked more information about the women, specifically Iris, I think their spareness is what works. Blake does not depend on solely characters, and the melancholic tone worked for capturing the heaviness of the times.
If you've read it, please weigh in,then we can chat about it. Thanks to Jill for recommending and Melissa at Penguin for the review copy. Years ago, I read Sarah Blake's first book a type="amzn">Grange House and remember enjoying it so you might want to check it out too. Grange House could not be more different - it's a Victorian gothic mystery drama.
Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum, 384 pages. Available in paperback from Gallery.
In the stirring tradition of The Secret Life of Bees and The Poisonwood Bible, Amaryllis in Blueberry explores the complexity of human relationships set against an unforgettable backdrop. Told through the haunting voices of Dick and Seena Slepy and their four daughters, Christina Meldrum's soulful novel weaves together the past and the present of a family harmed--and healed--by buried secrets.
"Maybe, unlike hope, truth couldn't be contained in a jar..."
Meet the Slepys: Dick, the stern doctor, the naive husband, a man devoted to both facts and faith; Seena, the storyteller, the restless wife, a mother of four, a lover of myth. And their children, the Marys: Mary Grace, the devastating beauty; Mary Tessa, the insistent inquisitor; Mary Catherine, the saintly, lost soul; and finally, Amaryllis, Seena's unspoken favorite, born with the mystifying ability to sense the future, touch the past and distinguish the truth tellers from the most convincing liar of all.
When Dick insists his family move from Michigan to the unfamiliar world of Africa for missionary work, he can't possibly foresee how this new land and its people will entrance and change his daughters--and himself--forever.
Comparisons to The Poisonwood Bible are natural considering the family dynamics, but after you get past the 4 daughters and a domineering father the similarities end. With ethereal and distant observations I actually thought it felt more like The Virgin Suicides. Each character's voice was unique and well formed, as every chapter is told from a different perspective, they all move the story along. The pace definitely builds as the Slepys arrive in Africa, even though you know from the first chapter that all is not well, Meldrum does a fantastic job of building suspense. As a reader you are far removed, I didn't get a sense that I could relate to these characters, I wasn't close enough to them. Maybe this is why I still feel kind of haunted by it. I know there is a lot of depth that I am missing, particularly in Seena's continual mythology references mixed with the families' Catholic faith, but it was a unique and satisfying read despite my lack. This would be a humdinger of a book club selection.
I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson, 336 pages. Available in hardcover from Knopf.
1974, Wales. Thirteen-year-old Petra and her best friend, Sharon, are in love with David Cassidy and obsessed with The Ultimate David Cassidy Quiz, a contest whose winners will be flown to America to meet their teen idol. 1998, London. Petra is pushing forty and on the brink of divorce. While cleaning out her mother’s closet, she finds a dusty letter—a letter her mother had intercepted—declaring her the winner of the contest she and Sharon had labored over with such agony and bliss. Twenty-four years later, twenty pounds heavier, the girls reunite for an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas to meet their teen idol at last.
Pearson has a talent for taking what on the surface appears to be trite or stereotypical and give readers thoughtful stories and surprisingly multi-dimensional characters. I enjoyed this book on several levels - first, she completely captured the voice of a 13-year old obsessed with a pop star crush while trying to maintain her position in group of frenemies -
"You chose the kind of friends you wanted because you hoped you could be like them and not like you. To improve your image, you made yourself more stupid and less kind...The hierarchy of girls was so much more brutal than that of boys. The boys battled for supremacy out on the pitch and, after, they showered away the harm. The girls played dirtier. For girls, it was never just a game." (p.136)
And because even with a mostly light hearted plot, Pearson doesn't condescend to her readers. She able captures real moments poignantly.
"It's not alwasy easy to recognize the significant moments of your life as you're living them, but Petra understands this is one of them. To stand in that hall and to realize that neither of her parents will ever answer the phone again. Nor will she ever need to dial their number." (p.182)
The second part of the book slowed down just a bit. But I must admit I loved Petra's pursuit of her 25 year old prize and laughed thinking of Trish & I chasing down Duran Duran as adults. This was a fun and sweet read. Pearson's skill takes it up a notch from standard "chick lit" and I heartily (sorry, I couldn't help myself) recommend it, particularly if you have a friend to laugh about it with you.
Review copy provided by Magdalena at Planned TV Arts.