BEYOND DEATH by Deb McEwan

This is the first in what is or will be a series call The Afterlife.  Doesn’t anybody write a one-off anymore?  I guess not.

Although a lot of people liked this book, some calling it ‘sensational’, I was frankly underwhelmed.  The basic premise is that when you die, you go to a place that isn’t a place while the authorities decide what to do with you.  You are attended by an angel, who keeps complaining about how busy they are, what with a cruise ship having just sunk and all, so your instructions are to hang around and wait until they can get to you.  Oh, yeah, and if you want, you can pop back into your earthly life from time to time to check up on the family and friends, but they can’t see you and try as you might, you can’t really interfere anymore in earthly matters.

First of all, the logic of a lot of the plot didn’t make much sense.  All the angel staff are busy because of a sinking cruise ship?  Talk about First World White People problems.  What about the millions who are dying daily around the world?  Do you mean to tell me that every freaking angel is busy with the over-monied white people on a cruise ship?

It concerns primarily a young woman who just got engaged, takes a taxi home to her own apartment, the taxi driver is busy fiddling on the floor for his phone and gets them into an accident in which they are both killed.   There are a couple of other people who die and I forget how because my mind drifted just a wee bit at that part.  OK, I fell asleep.  All right?  Are you happy now?  So it is all about the lives and secrets of the family and friends of these dead people and how they cope, with these dead people trying to interfere.

Told as a straight chick lit story, minus the dead people, would have made a pretty good chick lit book.  Working it around the Dearly Departed made it a mashup that frankly didn’t work all that well for me.

While it was a pretty good idea for a book, it was merely close but no cigar, as they say in…  well I don’t know where they say that.  I surely can’t imagine a series based on this.

I like my ghosts ghostly and not whining and complaining all the time, and my haints  doing some decent spooking.  This?  Well, no.

 

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THE POSTMISTRESS by Sarah Blake

This is the kind of book you had better read now, because among other things, it is about the post office, and delivering mail, and the writing and receiving of letters.  When was the last time you had a paper letter from someone?  Do you still get a lot of mail?   Email is taking over, and soon, our little children will be saying, “Mumsy, what is a post office?”

It is set at the beginning of World War II.  the war to end all wars.  Oh, wait, no.  That was World War I, which obviously did not end all wars.  There are currently something like 134 major ‘conflicts’ happening throughout the world.  Might be more, hard to get a good count.  There are 15 big hot spots.  But, yeah, back to 1940, the German nightly bombing of London has begun, and a young reporter, Frankie Bard, is sent to London to work with Ed Morrow, reporting nightly on the radio of what she sees going on in London.

Meanwhile, a sweet young woman marries a young doctor, and they move to his hometown, a small place on Cape Cod, where he tries to make up for the drunken mistakes of his doctor father.  Iris is appointed the new Postmaster for the town,  and so begins the disparate threads that will come together in an unexpected way.

Frankie records a nightly broadcast from London about the blitz and the daily experiences there.  She tells of her meeting up with a little guy in a shelter, and taking him home to his apartment only to find that the building has been pretty much demolished, killing his mother, and Frankie’s roommate journalist.  Hearing this broadcast, the doctor, after unsuccessfully attending a woman giving birth to her fifth or sixth child, but who dies in childbirth, probably due to his reluctance to call in more experienced help, decides to go to London to help out, thereby running away from his problems, and leaving his new bride to cope on her own.

Frankie has a reporter friend who is very concerned about the plight of the Jews in Germany and other European countries,  and Frankie is sent on a trip through Germany by train to garner local color.  What she finds are massive crowds of Jewish people fleeing for their lives, the cruelty of the German soldiers, and the reality of war.  In a coincidence found only in novels, Frankie meets that Cape Cod doctor husband in a bomb shelter, he gives her a letter to send to his wife in case of his demise, and she then watches later as he steps off a curb into the path of an oncoming vehicle and is killed.

After her trip through Germany, she is shattered, and goes back to New York, where she decides to go to that small Cape Cod town to deliver the letter in person, and it is there that the lives of the Postmaster, Frankie and the doctor’s wife all come together.

So there is a lot about the run up to the Holocaust, about fear of Germans in the US,  about the fear of German submarines attacking the coast.

The title of the book comes not only from the Postmaster Iris, but during a conversation between Iris and Frankie, Frankie refers to Iris as the postmistress, to which Iris huffily replies that she was the postMASTER.  The US does not have the title of postmistress, that was a British thing.

Good read, I guess something of women’s fiction, as it had mainly to do with the three women.

 

 

 

THREE WISHES by Liane Moriarty

Chick lit.  Not bad.  A little forced, but readable.  (Geez, do I sound pretentious, or what?)

It is about three sisters — triplets, thirty years old.  Sort of triplets, as the books is careful to keep reminding us.  Two from the same egg, one from a different egg. The different one is really different, especially in looks, with wild red hair.

The three sisters each have their own special character.  Per the blurb:  Lyn has organized her life into one big checklist, juggling the many balls of work, marriage, and motherhood with expert precision, but is she as together as her datebook would have her seem? Cat has just learned a startling secret about her marriage — can she bring another life into her very precarious world? And can free-spirited Gemma, who bolts every time a relationship hits the six-month mark, ever hope to find lasting love?

It is just the typical chick lit kind of story about decent people and the life stuff that happens to them.  What made it really annoying for me was that sprinkled throughout the book were little vignettes, observations by outsiders, bystanders, passersby,  presented as a memory of that bystander, or a postcard written to someone about what they observed, etc.  Really, just so precious I could hardly stand it.  Yeah, like you are going to write home from your vacation about some triplets you saw.  Gimme a break.

So I am not going to actually give this a rating.   Some genre fiction is really only pass/fail.  If it isn’t awful, then it exists as a satisfactory member of its genre.  This passes.

PROMISES TO KEEP by Ann Tatlock

A charming chick lit work, it blends the serious with the humorous to good effect.   Set in the 50s?  60s?  A mother and her three kids leave an abusive, alcoholic man and move out of state to the small town where her prosperous father lives, who helps her buy a house only a few blocks from him.  She gets a job at the department store which his wife owns.

But their first morning there, they awake to find an elderly woman comfortably seated on their front porch, reading their newspaper. Her name is Tillie, and she has removed herself from the assisted care facility back to what was once her home until her three sons sold it after their father died.  She refuses to leave, and her one son who still lives in the town comes rushing up to take her back.

Tillie shows up again the next day, insisting that the house is hers, even though it had been sold, because she and her husband built it, she has sweat equity in it.  The family can’t get rid of her;  she goes into the kitchen and makes herself a cup of tea. cleans up and starts to make herself useful.

When school starts again, mom is working, and the teen son has to go back to school, there is no one to take care of the youngest toddler, Tillie says she can do it, and they offer her a room in the house.

Meanwhile, the alcoholic father has followed them to the new town,  and secretly contacts our young 11 year old protagonist, swearing her to secrecy, telling her that the family will get together again soon, when the time is right.  He swears he has given up drinking and is now a model citizen.

She believes him, and meets up with him a couple of times, finally telling him where she lives, and even describing the house and the bedrooms.

Well, you can guess that such a sharing is a very poor idea, and culminates in a corker of an ending.

Promises.  Be careful what you promise.

 

 

 

GARDEN SPELLS by Sarah Addison Allen

When you see a pretty cover and a title that has the word ‘Spells’ in it, and the author has three names and the first one is Sarah with an ‘H’,  you know there will be some light magic, some kind of love story, and possibly fireflies.

Well, we lost out on the fireflies, but there was plenty of fanciful stuff going on, and love is definitely in the air.

OK, it’s chick lit, but it was lovely, basically about home and what constitutes home, and abandonment and reconciliation.   Sounds terribly heavy, but you know how a spoonful of honey etc. etc.

Claire Waverly was pretty much a recluse, a gal in her thirties who lived in the big old house her grandmother left her.  It has a bossy apple tree in the garden, which throws apples and demands to be in on everything.  If you eat an apple from that tree, you will learn what the biggest event in your life will be.  Since one’s death is usually the biggest thing in their life, it is not a good thing to know.

Claire has been estranged from her sister Sydney for ten years, ever since Sydney left town and never made contact again.  Claire never knew her father, and her wild-living mother  came back to town to stay with her mother, (Claire’s grandmother) when Claire was 6, because she was going to have another baby.  When that baby was six, she left again, and died in a car accident.

There is a wonderful character, a distant relative, Evanelle, who feels a strange compulsion to give people things, and it always turns out the recipient always needed the item in the future.  Everyone in town looked forward to seeing Evanelle, and her gifts.  Me, too.  I wish she lived around here.

After being physically abused by her current boyfriend, but afraid to leave because of their 6 year old daughter, Sydney finally has enough and escapes in the middle of the night with her daughter and comes back to the Waverly house as the only safe place she can think of.

We have the requisite attractive single male next door neighbor, the requisite best guy friend from second grade, now conveniently single and attractive, some snobbish women who look down on the Waverlys, and let me see, what else.

Oh yeah.  Claire makes a living baking and catering.  What makes her stuff special is that she uses botanical magic in her products, this flower for one thing, this herb for something else.  Like that.  Her products are in great demand.

Sydney is a hairdresser, and when the town sees the fabulous transformation that Sydney did to Claire’s hair, she now realizes she has her own share of the Waverly magic.

Do the Waverlys overcome all obstacles, and find the right guy?  Well, of course.  It wouldn’t be chick lit if they didn’t.  Do you wish you had a little light magic going on in your life?  Well, of course you do.  But look closely, maybe you do, and just haven’t recognized it.

As you know, I love happy endings.  Because being happy is its own sort of magic.

MISS BUNCLE’S BOOK and MISS BUNCLE MARRIED by D. E. Stevenson

These charming books were written in 1937.   The first tells  the story of Barbara Buncle, unmarried lady  in her thirties living in a small village somewhere near London.  She lives on some kind of dividends, and has a long time maid/housekeeper as everyone but the very poorest did in those days in England.  But she has a worry — the dividends are dwindling, and she is quite concerned as to how to make money to supplement the ever-decreasing income source.

She and her maid Dorcas discuss what can be done.  Barbara suggests the possibility of raising chickens, but the two ladies dismiss it as impractical, and not an activity that could produce enough income to justify the awfulness of raising chickens and all that entails.
But Miss Buncle gets an idea! She will write a book, and so she does.  Although she calls it fiction, it is a roman á clef about the people who live in the village and their doings. She used the pen name of John Smith.  She sends it to a publisher in London, not expecting much, but hoping.  The publisher reads it, and is thoroughly delighted with it.  He makes an appointment to come to see her and sign a contract, and gives her an advance of $100 pounds, and Barbara is thoroughly relieved because now she can pay her bills in the village.

The book is published and distributed, and is a great success!  A best seller, and the publisher is thrilled, Miss Buncle is amazed at its success, but a dark cloud looms.  The villagers reading it, begin to recognize themselves in the book, and although the names have been changed, it is abundantly clear who is who, and many of them are not shown in a very good light.  This book that is making the rounds is funny, and charming and there is a lot of talk about it.  Because it was published with a pen name,  no one knows who wrote it, Barbara is keeping mum about it, and the villagers are now sure it is one of them because who else would know them so well but another villager?

There ensues all kinds of comings and goings and speculating and the village finally settles on the doctor’s wife, because he knew everyone and could possibly come home and talk about everything he had seen.  It becomes clear to Barbara that this cannot continue and she tries to tell the village that she wrote it, but no one will believe her because she had always been so quiet and mousy and unassuming they all thought she was a little dull and not capable of such a thing. But at last they are forced to understand that their little mousy quiet Miss Buncle has indeed written this best seller.

After a number of meetings between Barbara and her publisher, a bachelor, they find themselves in love and plan to get married.  But things are heating up terribly in the village, and it is clear she can no longer live there.  She sells her house and leaves without telling anyone, so a committee of the village which has convened to confront Barbara and give her a good piece of their collective mind arrive to find the house empty and a for sale sign on the premises.

But the charming thing is that many of the villagers see how their characters in the book do things differently and decide themselves to make some changes.  A somewhat abusive man determines and achieves being a kind and loving husband and father, two ladies who live together decide on a long stay in Egypt in stead of the Samarkand that their fictional counterparts travel to, etc etc.

The second book is the married life of Barbara Buncle, now Abbot, and it is not nearly as interesting. She and her husband move to a house in another small village, said to have a ghost, which turns out to be a youngster from next door trying to scare away prospective buyers. It also has its share of colorful characters, just as Barbara’s former village.  It is more of a ladies magazine type story fleshed out to book length, with all the standard plot points expected in such.

I enjoyed the first book immensely, and simply enjoyed the second.  I tend to like books written in the early part of the twentieth century.  Whether American or British, they have a certain rhythm and flow to the language and the plot that  feels quiet different from today’s books.  Not necessarily better, just different.

It is the type of charming early twentieth century book that could only have been written in England, sweet, delightful and exhibiting a stalwart belief in the innate goodness of the human race.

Dorothy Emily Stevenson (1892–1973) was a best-selling Scottish author. She published more than 40 “light romantic novels” over a span of more than 40 years.

 

THE READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND by Katarina Bivald

A sweet, gentle chick lit homage to all those lovely books about books, about libraries, about book stores, about love, and about small towns.

Broken Wheel is a little, decaying shard of a town in the middle of Iowa, where an older woman, a lover of books, widowed, no family, starts up a pen pal correspondence with a young woman in Sweden.  The young woman is shy, and prefers to read than to socialize, works a dream job in a book store, and the two form a solid friendship, sending each other books.  I so loved that, except all my jaded mind could think of was the cost of the postage to do that!  When you order a book from Amazon sent to Mexico, the duty and the shipping cost more than the book itself!  Hence my love for my Kindle. And ebooks.

Between them, there is talk of the young woman visiting the gal in Iowa, and when her bookstore goes out of business, what has she got to lose?  So off she goes to visit her American friend.

Except that when she gets there, the friend has died, the funeral is just over, and the townspeople, calling her the tourist, install her in her dead friend’s house for the duration until her return flight, three months away.

Everyone is kind to her, cannot understand her love of reading, and will not let her pay for anything, not the restaurant, (OK, hamburger joint), the bar, the hardware/grocery store, nothing.  So she figures that she will try to do something to pay her way, by offering to help out the establishments, but that only makes the folks think she has run out of money.  Once she has straightened out that misunderstanding, she decides to open a book shop in her friend’s empty storefront, using her friend’s extensive book collection.

The opening of the bookstore generates a new feeling in town, where, as in all fictional small American towns, everyone is lovely and helpful and tries to get the young people together.

The book touches on LBGT issues, race issues, immigration, and even has a reluctant cougar.  All fairly implausible, given what I know about folks, but hey, it’s fiction, and what good is fiction if it doesn’t give us an improved world?  I think this is my big beef with dystopian and apocalyptic fiction.  I don’t want to see this world at its worst.  I want it see it as it could be at its best.

The book is by a Swedish author, written in Swedish and translated by Alice Menzies, and contains some puzzling assumptions but is no less likable for them.

If you liked 84 Charing Cross Road, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and Chocolat, you will like this one.  Not as deep, no real realism undercurrents as in those books, but charming in its own way.