Thursday, May 26, 2011

Some Mini Reviews

For the past two or three weeks, I've actually been reading a lot. I just haven't had the mental energy with all my new "retirement" opportunities to sit down and write some reviews. As is usual my reading has been all over the place, although it's been heavily slanted toward various aspects of the World War II experience.

Two wonderful shorter studies have come my way however, and since they are both such gems, I felt I had to share them with you. Neither is new, neither is tipping the top of the "publishers are waiting for a review" pile. Both were discoveries made through my association with  With the second book listed, I'm also going to introduce a slightly altered format for posting the reviews.

Title: Parnassus on Wheels
Author: Christopher Morley
Publisher/Format: Blackstone Audio, 3 hrs, 31 minutes
      also ebook (NOOK)
Narrator: Nadia May

Subject: Books, book lovers
Setting: New England
Genre: Fiction
Source: public library download, my own purchase (NOOK)

This is one of those serendipitous finds that came to me from all my reading buddies over on LT.  My primary reading group there (the 75 Book Challenge for 2011) has over 700 members with the most eclectic reading tastes, and I never fail to get pushed to read books I've never heard of, or never thought I'd like, and sometimes may never want to read again.  That said, if you've ever wanted to read something short, fun, memorable, and celebratory, grab this one.  I got it on my Nook for $.99 and then got an email from the library later that same day that my reserve for the downloadable audio was ready.  Both formats are terrific.

Parnassus is a horsedrawn RV/Traveling bookstore.  Its narrator is a 39 year old well-educated spinster, Helen McGill, who was once a schoolmarm/nanny but who is now wasting away on a farm tending the house and the pigs and the chickens for her starry -eyed brother who is a writer.  Along comes Roger Mifflin, writer wannabe, owner of Parnassus who says he wants to sell his road show to Helen's brother.  The adventure begins when Helen says what amounts to "phooey on that - I'm buying it myself", leaves a "bye-bye, see you later" note to her brother, and sets off with Mr. Mifflin to learn the bookselling ropes.

I so enjoyed this story, and I'm so glad I have a copy to read and re-read.  It takes less than 2 hours to read, and only 3 1/2 to listen to.  If you haven't discovered this classic, do go get your hands on it.
Title: Coventry
Author: Helen Humphreys
Publisher Format: W. W. Norton & Company 1st American Ed, Hardcover, 192 pages
Year of publication: 2009
Subject: bombing of Coventry and its aftermath
Setting: London and its surroundings in 1940
Genre: historical fiction
Source: gift from a friend
Rating: 5 out of 5
Recommended? Absolutely

Helen Humphreys is one of the best writers I've come across in recent years.  Her words are spare, her images are memorable, her characters are sharply drawn and well-fleshed out, and her stories leave us wanting more.  Last year I read her lovely little book The Frozen Thames, a book that I didn't think could be improved.  When a friend posted on LT about this one, I noted that I had actually been to Coventry and seen the damage inflicted by German bombers, how exquisite and uplifting the new cathedral was, and how I just had to go get this one for my library.  So my true book friend offered to send me her copy saying she wanted it to go to someone who would love it and appreciate it.  Thank you Linda----someday we will actually meet in person to share more book experiences.

Anyway, this one is the story of two women who meet in 1940, and then remeet years later almost without remembering the original meeting.  The years in between have brought both of them love, loss, and remorse. They find themselves ultimately searching for the same man for very different reasons.  The personal stories and tragedies are set against the landscape of utter destruction, ruin, terror, and devastation that marked the bombing of Coventry and then against the resurrection of hope and beauty that the citizens were able to create from the ruins.  The book is astonishing- sweet, simple, lean of words, but lush of image.  The city itself is the same.  If you have the chance, visit the city and the cathedral, but if that's not in your budget or timeline, be sure to read the book.

Here's a great virtual tour of the Cathedral


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