Book 5: Fear in the Sunlight

by Nicola Upson

At least I’m getting this one out before the next one arrives.

This is probably the only novel I’ve read where the author bases two of her protagonists on real people. Nicola Upson has a fascination with Elizabeth MacKintosh’s, pseudonym Josephine Tey, mysteries. She also likes Alfred Hitchock’s work, although she paints him as exceedingly arrogant, but adores his wife. Being familiar with Hitchcok’s early films before he left Britain would probably help in some areas, and knowing Tey’s books would help in others. In addition the reader needs a family tree to keep all of the characters straight. Like Agatha Christie, she throws in too large a cast, but unlike Christie, she gives out enough information to close in on the real culprit by the middle of the book. I knew who did it, but not all the reasons for why until the ending.

As a Hitchcock aficionado, Nancy would enjoy this one for sure. Fear in the Sunlight is used as a phrase by one of the characters to cover what everyone is feeling. The detective we like and rely on has to step aside for the local constable because he is out of his jurisdiction. He knows the locals have come to the wrong conclusion.

There are a few threads that just don’t work as far as the relationships are concerned. For example, a brother and sister from the same town take up acting careers under different stage names. But no one in their home town where much of the story takes place makes the connection even though they were in their twenties when they left. Another family relationship also gets stretched to improbable limits, but in the end it does all tie together.

To truly appreciate Upson, I should probably read the key Tey mysteries and watch the early Hitchcock films I don’t know. Otherwise, it was a challenging reading pleasure.

In the meantime, I did finish Greta Christina’s book, but not my review for Mo. (I’m on Chapter 11 and will need to go back for a refresher. to write the next part.) I also read Elizabeth Warren’s new one which I got for Mother’s Day, but I’m anxiously awaiting June.

Book 4: Hons and Rebels

by Jessica Mitford

As you know, Jessica Mitford’s book arrived the first week of April and held great promise. After reading David Giffel’s book, I had started Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error, and Mo asked me to work on Greta Christina’s, Coming Out Atheist. (The plan was for us to read sections and comment back and forth through e-mail which we did get started on. . .). It took all month to finish Ravitch and Christina. Finally, on Wednesday of this past week, I was able to pick up Mitford. My goal was to finish her book before my new one arrived, and I made it!!

What a magnificent story it is. Her vocabulary is easily accessible only sending me to the dictionary for French, when she had multiple sentences, and one German translation. Baize is the only English word and Jim probably knows that one. She uses it to describe a door between the nursery and the the bedrooms. And, then there was the character reference to Struwwelpeter which every German, French and English child would know, but not us Americans.

As one of seven children in her aristocratic family, she knows from the beginning that she will have to escape their closed-in, political conservatism. When she was nine, she actually opened up a bank account which she called her “Runaway Fund,” and she kept the letter acknowledging the receipt of her first deposit. It’s delightful. Amazingly, although she and two of her sisters were on such opposite sides of the political spectrum, she still shows great love for all of her family members. But once she split from England, she never really resumed family connections except to rebuild her relationship with her mother and sisters primarily through letters.

It’s a exacting picture of the build-up to WWII and made all the more interesting by family ties. Her first husband, a total rebel, was Winston Churchill’s nephew. Churchill was probably the only member of the family who was anti-Hitler before he became PM.

Now here’s what confuses me. I was working at the Kenmore Branch Library when her book was released. As a lover of biographies, I can only assume that we did not order Hons and Rebels for our collection, or I would have read it then. How much I missed is sad. To have known her then as this book allows me to know her now, I would have followed her through the Civil Rights era and up to the time of her death. What a loss on my part.

This month’s is another mystery and I’m ready to proceed. :-)

Book 3: The Map of Lost Memories

by Kim Fay

When I received my new present, I had to actually wait a week to read it because I was finishing a long treatise on the economy. That one took forever, but I glided through The Map of Lost Memories in a day. Dr. Levine’s statement about being a Dickens addict comes to mind. He said, “When it comes to Dickens I’m like a chocoholic with a box of chocolates. I can’t put the book down.” That’s me and a good fiction novel, and unfortunately, chocolate too.

Kim Fay is a good story teller. She has at least a few more tales to follow her main character into more recent times than the 1925 setting she chose, but she’s writing eastern travel and cook books (aromas dominate more of this story than food) in the meantime.

Her novel is reminiscent of the Nicholas Cage movies on treasure hunts in the America’s and Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas’ Joan Wilder adventures. Her lead character is a curator rather than a romance novelist and has to have more knowledge about her quest than Wilder’s accidental forays. Fay does seem to be writing for the big screen though as she has many action-packed scenes in the story, including the frail rope-bridge trope.

Anyway, now I have to learn more about the history of Cambodia and the Khmer people. It’s fascinating that when we look at a time-line of ancient civilizations that we manage to leave out the whole Indonesian area when they had advanced cultures that existed as early or earlier than the Mayans, and they made credible contributions to their communities that fell into ruin either through greed or colonization. I guess they just didn’t leave a calendar behind.

The main character strives for recognition of her work in a world that belongs to men with PhD’s. She has to outdistance others who are aware of her quest and joins forces with some strong people and some very greedy ones whose family histories are rolled together in various scenarios. It’s a good read all the way through, but a bit lightweight in plot. The characters are not quite Dickensian, but well-sketched in a more modern sense. You are welcome to borrow it. :-)

Book 2: The Glimpses of the Moon

by Edmund Crispin

So book two was a quick read and quite enjoyable. You both would probably like this cute little mystery set in present day England. Crispin’s metaphors and similes are unique and refreshing. His references to historical moments means some required research. For example:

“In the meantime he had made further arrangements about Routh’s head, and these had manifested themselves to an evening angler, a local unemployable called Don Goody who was futilely attempting to poach trout from a reach of the Burr where nothing was known to have been taken since the year of Alamein.”

Brits who know their history would immediately recognize that would be 1942, but just the name makes it sound even longer ago than that.

The vocabulary is also challenging.

One character is totally misunderstood by various employers because he loves to work. Union shops get rid of him quickly as a result. People also easily believe that he must be daft. All the characters are very richly Dickensian in development. Our hero isn’t a Miss Marple or Hercule Peirot, but he listens well and knows the right questions the detectives should be asking.

More of Crispin’s mysteries will be good for mindless days, which occur frequently now.
I’m already looking forward to next month. In the meantime I’m reading a fascinating work by Julie Drew and Bill Lyons about adult fear of teenagers and implanting fear in teens so they can be educated in an authoritarian manner. They have a great chapter on Pleasantville which must be Julie’s contribution.


Book 1: The Girls of Atomic City

My first book arrived this past week. Denise Kiernan’s degree is probably is women’s studies with an historical focus. (Her other titles are a give-away.) Anyway, it is well researched with occasional repetition, but she documents the uranium enrichment process very thoroughly as she writes about the different positions and workloads each woman had.

The tragedy of America’s treatment of blacks is once again reinforced. Even through Roosevelt said no discrimination, the facility was built in Oak Ridge, Tennessee assuring that treatment would be very different. Married whites had housing. Married blacks were forced to live in separate quarters, and they could not bring their children. Recreational facilities like the swimming pool. roller rink, and theater were for whites only. White single women had single or double rooms in a house with a kitchen. Four black women were relegated to a 16×16′ “hut” and were not allowed to cook. Black men lived in barracks like soldiers. Pay wages and more were disparate. White women also faced discrimination, especially those with higher degrees. (Sounds a bit like adjunct faculty, doesn’t it?)

The worse for all of them was that they lived in a gated community behind barbed wire and had to wear passes at all times. They were watched by “creeps” who recorded and reported their activities and what they talked about. They has no idea what they were working on, only that it would end the war.

Kiernan fills in a large gap in my historical knowledge. I knew Oak Ridge existed, but the details were very much unknown.

It’s a good selection and it was a New York Times bestseller that I was unaware of.

So thank you both for the first installment of my reading agenda for the year. I’m looking forward to the next one.