Review ~ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Cover via Goodreads

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I watched the Netflix distributed film version of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society a while back. When I found out that the book was written in epistolary form, I was curious how the story would be pulled off in letter/diary form.

Turns out, the novel version is quite different from the film version.

What Worked…with the Film
I have to admit that there are occasions when I think the film version of a book is better than the book itself. This is one of those occasions. The screenplay writers (Kevin Hood, Don Roos, and Tom Bezucha) keep key elements from the novel, but give the narrative some mystery: who is Elizabeth McKenna and where is she now? In the book, those questions are answered rather quickly. The third point of  Juliet and Dawsey’s the romantic triangle  is provided by a completely different character who is dropped from the film altogether. In the film, Juliet also has some misgivings about the slightly mercenary nature her task. As an outsider to Guernsey, should she be the one telling their stories? This provides the character of Juliet with a more realistic level of uncertainty about the situation. Juliet of the book rarely seems completely uncertain of anything. She is maybe too perfect.

Overall
If any World War II narrative can be a pleasant way to pass the time, it’s this one.

Publishing info, first printing:  Dial Press, 2008
My Copy: Kindle/Overdrive in-browser, Tempe Overdrive library
Genre: historical fiction

The film is directed by Mike Newell, starring Lily James and
Michiel Huisman.

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Review ~ Ashes to Ashes

This book was provided to me by Repeater Books via NetGalley for review consideration.

Cover via Goodreads

Ashes to Ashes: The Songs of David Bowie, 1976-2016 by Chris O’Leary

From the ultimate David Bowie expert comes this exploration of the final four decades of the popstar’s musical career, covering every song he wrote, performed or produced from 1976 to 2016.

Starting with Low, the first of Bowie’s Berlin albums, and finishing with Blackstar, his final masterpiece released just days before his death in 2016, each song is annotated in depth and explored in essays that touch upon the song’s creation, production, influences and impact. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Like many people of a certain age, I was ensorceled by David Bowie as the Goblin King in Labyrinth (1987). My parents listened to the local rock/classic rock radio station, so I was familiar with Bowie’s hits, songs like “Space Oddity,” “Ziggy Stardust,” and “Changes.” But after Labyrinth, I became a fan. Never Let Me Down (1987) was one of the first albums I bought on my own. I lucked out; starting in the 90s Rykodisc started releasing his back catalog.

What Worked
Ashes to Ashes is an incredibly comprehensive look at David Bowie’s works from 1976 (the album Low, one of my favorites) to the end of his career (2016’s Blackstar, an album I still haven’t listened to very much). Every song that Bowie wrote, sang, covered, co-wrote, co-produced, or hummed a few bars on a television show is given an entry. I might be overstating, but only a little. By going through each of the songs in the order of their creation (or performance), O’Leary provides a very through biography of Bowie.

Each song has an entry that contains information on the song’s writing, production, and the musicians involved in its recording. There are also stories attached and, in the case of the first songs recorded for a new album, information about the album. The 700 page work (the second of two volumes) contains an amazing number of crunchy tidbits.

What Didn’t Work…For Me
I don’t know much about music and music theory, so some discussions about the musical makeup of songs went over my head. O’Leary is also not an entirely objective reporter. He definitely has opinions about certain songs and certain albums. And occasionally these views differed from my own not-objective opinions.

Overall
I read Ashes to Ashes over a series of months, listening to each album, each song as I read about it. I learned a great deal about David Bowie’s solo work and many collaborations and I gained new appreciation for albums both familiar and relatively new to me. As a fan, I consider Ashes to Ashes worth the time I spent on it.

Publishing info: Repeater Books, released 2/12/19
My Copy: ePub, acquired through NetGalley
Genre:
nonfiction

Deal Me In, Week 6 ~ “Marley and Marley”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Marley and Marley” by J. R. Dawson

Card picked: 7
Found at: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November-December 2017

Before she showed up, she was preceded by this man in a pinstriped suit. A harbinger. He sat me down in his sterile office and said, “Time Law is no joking matter.”

Time travel is a tricky thing to handle. Why bringing Old Marley from the future is easier than putting Little Marley in foster care, I don’t know. It ends up being a sort of scientific MacGuffin that gives characters in science fiction stories something to do. That isn’t to say that “Marley and Marley” doesn’t have its clever points or isn’t well written. By the end, I wondered if the “time cops” knew anything about the future at all. (And the title: a play on Marley and Me?)

Author trivia: J. R. Dawson lives in Omaha, my hometown.

Mini Reviews, Vol. 15

The Wedding Date cover The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

I don’t read a lot of romances, but I will probably have some romantic elements in the story I’m writing. Hence, I’m going to make an effort to read a few. I picked The Wedding Date because it was available and it sounded fun. And it was! Pro: Alexa’s growth as a character wasn’t directly linked to her relationship with Drew. Con: The ending was very tidy. But I’ll allow it.

The Cure for Dreaming cover The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

For some reason I thought this was book was going to be a heavier romance than it was. Due to its mesmerism plot, it had come up on my radar anyway. All in all, The Cure for Dreaming was okay. The protagonists were fairly young, which is a minus for me, but there were a few fairly scary bits.

Black Klansman cover Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime by Ron Stallworth

And now for something completely different… I became interested in Ron Stallworth’s story due to the current coverage that the movie is getting. Stallworth was the first black police officer in Colorado Springs in 1972 and spearheaded an information gathering task force investigating the local Ku Klux Klan in 1978. In an era when background checks were not easily done, Stallworth placed three officers in the Klan and had personal contact over the phone with Klan members, including speaking with (and ending up as personal security for) David Duke. The writing is occasionally repetitive, but it’s a pretty amazing story.

Deal Me In, Week 5 ~ “Big Girl”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Big Girl” by Meg Elison

Card picked: 5
Found at: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November-December 2017

The girl woke up with a sore neck and three seagulls perched on her eyelashes.

Meg Elison tells this tale mostly from the point of view of the social media accounts and news outlets covering the appearance of a naked 350ft girl in San Francisco Bay. It is discovered that she is 15 year-old Bianca Martinez, but she’s known as #baybe. This story made me queasy, which I’m sure is Elison’s intent. So easily, the world sees Bianca as a object rather than a person—because of her size, because she’s become a celebrity. It makes me want to never read celebrity news/gossip ever again.

The Black Cat, No. 4, January 1896

Welcome to the fourth issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project! Alas, there was a problem with the January issue. It was missing a few pages!

Stories

“In Solomon’s Caverns” by Charles Edward Barns

Charles Edward Barns had his first appearance in issue one with “In a Tiger Trap.” “In Solomon’s Caverns” sets up an equally exciting adventure: an investigation of the caves caused by the building of Solomon’s Temple. Of course, the American who is doing the spelunking loses his guide early in the process. The framing story implies that opium is part of the man’s salvation from the caves, but, alas, I’ll never understand how since I was lacking the end of the story.

“An Angel of Tenderfoot Hill” by Frederick Bardford

I was also missing the beginning of this story (and some of its middle pages too). From what I gathered, a hell-raising cowboy-type falls in love with a Presbyterian named Alice. He goes off to make his fortune and to endeavor to be worthy of her, but when he returns he finds that the small town that he’s left has become a city, and Alice may or may not have married his former friend.

“In Miggles’ Alley” by Herman Brownson

This is a little vignette: Little Tim O’Hagan’s nick-name is “Shingles” because when his mom is at work, he hangs out on the roof of their building with this infant brother. Across the street is a fire station. Shingles loves to watch the fire men come and go. In fact, one day to amuse himself and his baby brother he decides to play fire man and “rescue” his brother by lowering him down from the roof of the building…. This is Herman Brownson’s first story for The Black Cat.

“The Missing Link” by James Buckham

While on a camping trip with his friends, Henderson happens to take a couple pictured of a murder occurring. He later offers the photos to prove a man innocent of the crime. This might be one of the most competently written stories I’ve read in The Black Cat thus far, and I was missing two pages of it in the middle and the ending! The use of photography in a mystery strike me as very modern. Via Google, I do find a poet named James Buckham; I wonder if it’s the same author.

“Unchallenged” (alas, I don’t know the author)

Alas, I’m missing the beginning of this story. It “starts” with two girls strapping on pistols and riding out to on an errand. It seems that the errand was to show-up some men, but I’m definitely missing a piece. The writing is good enough that I’m a little sad that I don’t have the whole story.

“Aidu” by Hero Despard

“Aidu” is a story set in India that thankfully lacks some of the usual problematic aspects of a 1896 story set in India. Our narrator falls in love with the beautiful Aidu. When he meets her she seems to be in some trouble. She agrees to help (and later to marriage), under the condition that she be allowed her freedom and she not be followed when she leaves the house. Aidu is a strange woman; she is never seen eating and once a week she goes for a walk alone and returns re-invigorated. Of course, we know how this story goes. Our love-struck narrator, follows her one evening…

This was my favorite of the month.

“Mrs. Emory’s Boarder” by C. Marie Mott

I saw him pass every day; not that I watched for him, but it’s against human nature that a woman should sit at a window all day and never look out.

This story is a bit of a joke; a pretty clever “groaner,” perfect for a magazine called The Black Cat.

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After a couple months with no ads, the issue ends with a full page ad for Holiday Books from Houghton, Mifflin & Co.

Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. 4, January 1896

Or find out
More about the Black Cat Project

Review ~ Laurant

Laurant: Man of Many Mysteries

Laurant: The Man of Many Mysteries by Gabe Fajuri

In 1896, Eugene Laurant became a professional magician. 21 years earlier, as Eugene Greenleaf, he was born on the frontier, in the horse and buggy town that was Denver, Colorado.

Billed as the “Man of Many Mysteries,” Laurant spent almost 50 seasons on tour. His stage-filling magic show brought wonder and delight to millions of spectators across North America.

The bulk of Laurant’s career was spent not in major metropolitan centers, or hustling, bustling cities like New York. Unlike his contemporaries—Houdini among them—Laurant, for the most part, confined his routes to rural America. It was there that he made his mark. Eugene Laurant was, arguably, king of the small town showmen.

Laurant carried a full compliment of assistants, livestock, baggage and thousands of pounds of equipment-the tools of mystery making-over the rough-and-tumble back roads of America. He logged millions of miles on the road.

His greatest successes were made on the Lyceum and Chautauqua circuits, which enjoyed immense popularity between 1900 and 1920. During those years, Laurant headlined for the most prominent organization in the business, the Redpath Bureau.

Drawing on Laurant’s own unpublished writings, scrapbooks, and new research, this book paints a revealing and complete portrait of this early American magician. From his earliest dime-museum days, to Wild West adventure, vaudeville shows and much more, Laurant: Man of Many Mysteries tells the tale.

via Squash Publishing

Quick Review

When I ordered Laurant as a late Christmas present / “let me get this guacamole seasoning shipped for free” add-on item, I didn’t entirely realize how relevant it would be to the book I’m currently writing. I was somewhat aware of Eugene Laurant as one of the many magicians of the early 20th century, but I didn’t know that his career was mainly as a performer in the Lyceum and Chautauqua circuits. Not only is this book a well-detailed biography of Laurant, but it has lots of crunchy details about the workings of the Chautauqua.

My one beef is that the book is rather slim for the price, but it is a very nice hardback, glossy and full of pictures. Perfect for my second read of the year.

Other Info

Genre: biography, history
Published: Squash Publishing
Release Date: May 31, 2005
My copy: hardback purchased via Amazon