Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. Simon and Schuster, 2016. 9781501124372.
Eighteen-year-old Mary North, spoiled daughter of a politician, abandons her Swiss ski trip to volunteer at the outbreak of World War II — so suddenly that she’s still in ski wear when she checks in. She’s disappointed with her boring assignment as schoolteacher. But then she creates her own excitement by seducing her boss, Tom Shaw. Everything is complicated when Mary meets Tom’s handsome roommate Alistair Heath, formerly an art restorer but currently an artillery officer, just back from the evacuation of Dunkirk.
Alistair is posted to Malta, Mary takes charge of a motley class of kids returned from their evacuation from London, and the two continue their romance in lighthearted letters, not all of which reach their destinations. Alistair narrowly escapes death many times. Mary ruffles society feathers with her egalitarian notions and by accepting a black student into her class. Mary and her friend Hilda volunteer for air raid duty, and Mary drives an improvised ambulance that carries stretchers which, empty or not, are tied to its roof!
This romance is sprawling, vivid, witty, and, though it might seem messy at first, tightly plotted and carefully constructed.
Thanks to Robert in San Diego for this guest book review!
Mastering the art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck. Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. 9780394721781. 684 pp.
Okay, I admit when I was younger I truly did not appreciate Julia Child or her culinary prowess. She was quite manly and had the strangest voice. I had no idea that when I was watching her on PBS I was witnessing a true chef in her element. She was one of the true pioneers of celebrity cooking shows, highly skilled and full of zest for life, who has been often imitated but never duplicated.
Now that I have gotten older, maybe a little wiser, and have married a man who loves to cook I wanted to learn more about this zany lady. In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia truly hit her stride. Her love and admiration for the French and their cuisine shines through. Decadent French recipes face their English translations. The entire book is going to end up covered in my drool. (Good thing I own this particular copy!)
Julia Child was a celebrity but she never lost touch with her audience. She didn’t see the need for glitz or glamour. Who really has every fancy cooking utensil or contraption at their disposal? I just wish I had appreciated this gem of a lady when she was still alive.
Guest review by Murphy’s Mom
Innocence: Or, Murder on Steep Street by Heda Margolius Kovály, translated by Alex Zucker. Soho Crime, 2015. 9781616954963.
Helena, the only first person narrator, has managed to land a job as an usher at a movie theater in Communist era Prague after her husband was arrested for espionage. The other characters’ interactions away from Helena are narrated in the third person, as if the author didn’t want to get too close to these often disagreeable people. One married woman is tired of her philandering spouse, and offers to offload him onto the party girl he’s sleeping with. Another usher’s genteel poverty is an act. A police informant is goaded into becoming a provocateur, and very nearly a procurer of sexual favors. Possibly the creepiest of all the characters is the silver-haired State Security operative who’s fixated on cracking Helena’s husband, and who also wants to incriminate Helena. Meanwhile, an actual spy ring is using the theater to pass microfilm between couriers. All of these folks would probably not wish to draw any attention to themselves, but murders nearby prompt police investigations.
Most mysteries have one big reveal during their climax. Innocence: Or, Murder on Steep Street starts with a murder committed and solved in the first chapter. After that, revelations continue over the course of the book as Helena, her coworkers, cops, creeps, and spies interact. With two and a half murders, a suicide, and a malefactor too powerful to be brought to justice, this is closer to a tragedy than it is to mystery or thriller. It is also a tribute to how confusingly complex a good book can be when written by someone who’d lived through confusingly complex decades.
This book is also, in many ways, an artifact of the early Cold War. The author’s son Ivan Margolius’ introduction gives useful background, including apologetic paragraphs explaining what motivated his father to join Czechoslovakia’s Communist Party after World War II, his family’s disgrace, and his father’s execution in the wake of the 1952 Slansky Trials. (Kovály emigrated to the United States in 1968, in the wake of the Prague Spring.)
Thanks to Robert in San Diego for this guest book review!
Gene: Our first guest review is from Murphy’sMom, who used to review with Sarah and I for the Unshelved Book Club. (Let us know if you’re feeling the itch to review a book or two, too.)
Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart. Delacorte Books for Young Readers , 2016. 9780553536744.
Timothy McGrother knows she is really a girl named Lily. She has long, blonde hair and looks great when she dresses up in her mother’s sundresses, high heels, and makeup. In fact, she wishes Tim didn’t exist. Lily does not understand why her dad and other kids in her class see only a little, freaky weirdo named Timothy. That is so not her! Lily is starting eighth grade and puberty so she really, really needs her dad to give her permission for the hormone blockers.
Norbert and his mom just moved from New Jersey to Florida. He is pissed at his mom because she left his dad and wants a fresh start. Norbert wants to reinvent himself because in Jersey he was a big, clumsy oaf. (It’s a good thing the jocks don’t see that when the basketball coach adds him to the team as a walk-on.)
Neither Norbert nor Tim are comfortable with their true identities. Tim wants so badly to be Lily, and Norbert hates his name and lumbering physique. When the two become friends before school starts, they are able to confide in one another and recreate themselves as Lily and Dunkin.
This is a great YA novel that has a tremendous amount of compassion and sympathy for the underdogs.