Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

Good historical fiction, is there anything quite as satisfying?

Mark Sullivan’s Beneath a Scarlet Sky tells the story of Pino Lello, a young man coming of age in Italy during World War II.  Pino’s parents live in Milan and own a purse store.  In 1943, the store is destroyed by bombs, and Pino is sent to live in the Alps with Father Re at a school for boys.  This school is meant to keep Pino safe from the destruction of the war. When Pino first arrives, he is sent on arduous hikes through the Alps, and told to try to accomplish these hikes with minimal contact with others.  In other words, stay hidden.  Pino builds his strength and agility and is soon leading refugees from Italy into the safety of Switzerland.  As Pino nears 18 and his conscription is about to come up, his parents enlist him as a German soldier.  An injury puts Pino behind the wheel of General Hans Leyer’s car as his driver.  As Leyer’s driver, Pino begins to spy on the Nazis.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky has not been a quick read, but it has been a satisfying read.  I rank it up with the reading experiences provided by All The Light You Cannot See and The Nightingale.  It is a beautifully told and meaningful story worth taking the time to read.  Pino Lello is a real man, interviewed by Sullivan for this book.  For me, this is the personal side of war, but more significantly, the personal side of integrity and courage.  I hope the Pino Lellas of today are depicted with the same heart.

 

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Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris

I preface this recommendation by saying I am a fool for David Sedaris’s writing.  To me, his grocery list could be a best seller.  Imagine my delight, then, when Sedaris decided to publish his diaries…and it was thick!  I almost had to take a week off from the library to indulge my curiosity.  (I do love my summer vacations, so I just stayed up late.)

THEFT BY FINDING

Theft by Finding, David Sedaris’ newest book, features entries from the diaries he has kept for the last 40 years.  A second volume covering 2002-now is forthcoming.   Sedaris said he intended to publish a book of his funnier entries, but what his editor suggested was a more chronological arc.  There are definitely funny entries, but really much, much more.  I have talked with people who read cover to cover (my college roommate, also a librarian), and people who pick it up, flip through, read what catches their eye, and then set Theft down again for a while (my husband.)

David Sedaris was in Portland recently for a reading and book signing at Merrill Auditorium, and I was able to attend.  I am more used to readings that you just go to, buy the book and wait in a manageable line for signing, but this was a ticketed event at Merrill Auditorium, and so, under the guise of a birthday gift for my husband, I bought two tickets.  It…was…awesome.  We laughed, we laughed some more, we were slightly offended. Sedaris delights in some shock value, but enjoys it as if he isn’t responsible for it which I guess is part of the sardonic charm of his writing.  After reading a long passage I wouldn’t let my older kids listen to in a million years, he paused, looked at the crowd, and said, “That was filthy!”  His language is colorful, and not for the sensitive or delicate, but we knew that walking in, and certainly after the first story.  Anyone who has read any of his earlier work knows it too.  Despite the sprinkling of coarseness, his observations are clever and spot on, even for someone as different from the author as I am.  That in itself is a measure of success to me-that ability to be totally and completely oneself, and share that truth other “selves” can understand.  I was a little star struck for the experience of seeing someone I have read so much of in person.  He looks like his picture and sounds like his books.  Theft By Finding is worth perusing.

 

 

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PSALMS by Dave Morrison

Do you read poetry? I do, albeit occasionally.  I think I am most attracted to poetry when I am trying to make sense of something, or trying to give language to a feeling.  I turn to Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things when the world is too much, the gentle lyrics of Nicolette Larson when driving home from dropping my daughter at college;  Mary Oliver sustains me when I need to connect my heart with the natural world.

I recently discovered the poet Dave Morrison via an ad in one of the book journals I read.  Morrison lives with his wife in Maine now, after years of playing music in New York and Boston.  Psalms is his newest volume of poetry.  Aside from being a Mainer, what hooked me was the volume’s description:  “Memoir, Mosaic, Miniatures, Meditations, Morsels, Beads on a String.  Love Notes to the Muse. Poems. Not-Poems, Songs of Praise. Psalms.”  

I’ll set the scene:  a quintessential early fall day.  I was meeting a dear friend for lunch and a long overdue catch up.  My friend delayed at work, I pulled Psalms from my bag and fell in love with Morrison’s words.  I stretched out on a freshly painted wrap around  porch, soaking up the sun, enjoying a gentle breeze, my eyes resting on the still green grass and well cared for plantings as I considered a few of the 100 poems in this new volume.   Morrison says so much with so few words.  He clinches meaning.  He expresses what I wish I had words for, he asks the questions I need to answer, and he does it with a gorgeous honesty. His work is readable and thought-provoking, spiritual but not preachy.   I find I am turning back to what seemed like an uncomplicated piece over and over again. I snicker on one page, smile to myself on the next.  I slow down.  I am thankful.

I am a 99% library user, and a 1% book buyer.  I bought Psalms.

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The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

The Lying Game

Have you read Ruth Ware?  A few of my colleagues raved about her debut novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood.  Give them a slot on the Staff Picks shelf and In a Dark, Dark Wood is always out.  How about The Woman in Cabin 10?  That psychological thriller is still usually on the HOLD shelf, and the audio version was just recommended to me by a book group member.  It really is a keep driving around the block audio book!

But,  The Lying Game.  Ware’s third novel has a subtly building tension throughout.  Here is the premise:  Kate, Isa, Thea and Fatima attend Salten, an exclusive boarding school that caters to wealthy families with children who have already been to a few schools.   Isa and Fatima are new, but are soon indoctrinated into “the lying game.”  I am not immune to games and the commraderie they may develop; my colleagues and I have a few games we play at the library.  Who will be on the cover of People Magazine this week?  By what time do you think the Book Calendar ‘Book of the Day’ will be checked out?  But never the Lying Game.  Though the girls swear to never lie to each other, they become infamous among the other Salten students and faculty for their game, and most steer clear of them.

Flash forward and Kate, who still lives just a few minutes from the school, texts the other three:  “I need you.”  Though it has been 17 years since they have been together, and an equal amount of time since they have been to Salten, they all immediately drop everything and go to Kate.  The mystery of the body that is found on the beach and its ties to each of the girls will have ramifications to their present day lives.  How will they handle their past lies, especially when they have moved on?  Will they continue to lie?  You will have to read this twisty, chilly thriller and find out!

 

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Sequels

I dropped my daughter off at college for her second year, and visited with friends and family who live away and was reminded of how terrible I am with goodbyes.  As a child, I cried in the back of the station wagon until Massachusetts when we left our cousins after a visit;  my farewells still have waterworks!  So…it should be no surprise that lately I have not wanted to say good by to my fave fictitious femmes.  I am really into the “series” read.  Do you find an author or character you like and churn through their books, one after another, wishing the book had just a few more pages?  I’ve discovered and written about a few series this summer, ending with a promise to get my hands on their next book.  Here are some of my follow-ups:

Solitaire

Solitaire is the 5th book in the Clare Vine series, and we find our heroine’s presence is requested at the office of the Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels.  Goebbels wants Clara to spy for the Germans, and idea abhorrent to Clara until she sees this role as an escape route to London.  Privately reeling from heartbreaking loss, Clara may not have enough wits about her for this challenge…or does she?  A cracker jack follow up…and it takes place in 1940 so I hope there will be more books in this series!

Miss Constance Kopp is back at the Hackensack jail in this third novel in the Kopp Sisters series by Amy Stewart.  Comfortably trite and delightfully altruistic, our jail maiden slash police detective is battling the local establishment when it comes to locking up women dubiously charged with moral depravity.  Always a believer in a fair shake, Constance entertains with her pursuit of justice.  Stewart spends more time with the stories of some of the other characters-Florette, Minnie, Edna- which I really like.  Each could be their own novel.  This series is not getting old, and mystery lovers won’t want to miss this next installment.

 

Product Details

Poppy Denby delights in the second mystery of the series.  Journalist by day, detective the rest of the time, Poppy is now arts and entertainment editor at the Daily Globe, and covers a Russian art exhibit that puts her on the trail of a missing Faberge Egg.  Her hunt places her right in the middle of a sensational mystery, with Romanovs, White Russians and more.  The Kill Fee is a light, fun read, with entertaining characters set in the fascinating backdrop of London in the 1920s, perfect for a relaxing weekend or a long, rainy evening.

Product Details

Mirabelle Bevin is now working for McGuigan & McGuigan Debt Recovery with sidekick Vesta Churchill.  (As an aside, if my parents named me Mirabelle Bevin or Vesta Churchill, or Poppy Denby for that matter, I would know I was bound to solve mysteries!)

An underage debutante, Rose Bellamy Gore, is murdered at a “seedy Soho jazz club”, and the saxophone player, Linden Claremont, is arrested because he was the last person seen talking to Rose.  Linden is a friend of Vesta’s and seeks her help in clearing his name and finding out who actually did kill Rose.  London Calling  was an enjoyable read…if you like mysteries, you just can’t go wrong with Sara Sheridan’s novels!

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Gardenias by Faith Sullivan

There is a running joke about the weight of my vacation book bag(s) among my friends, particularly the friends that help me carry them.  A suggestion was made for me to consider paperbacks this year.  What?  I like to read new books, hardcover and hot off the press! (Also, an easy trick to be sure I haven’t already read a book.)  But, to be a team player, I decided to look at some paperbacks, and came across Gardenias, a 2006 novel by author Faith Sullivan.  Gardenias is told from the point of view of Lark, a 10ish year old girl whose mother, Arlene, and aunt, Betty, flee their husbands in Minnesota for promise of a better, more fulfilling life in California.  The three manage to get a place in a development built to house people working at Consolidated, and both women find jobs.  The development known as “The Project” is wartime housing, and is filled with semi-transient people, uprooted during World War II.  The reader gets to know them through their interactions with Lark and her mother.

Lark is our narrator, and her voice is stunning and poignant, reminiscent of classic child narrators.  She meets Shirley, a completely neglected, rude and outspoken girl from the neighborhood, who comes and goes without invitation.  When Arlene buys a second-hand piano, Betty begins to teach Shirley.  Shirley is musically gifted, and practicing the piano is somewhat of a saving grace in her troubled life.  While Lark doesn’t want to learn the piano, she resents the attention Shirley receives, and resents Shirley in general. Her mom and aunt are always tolerant of Shirley, if not down right kind to her.  The rest of the world is not.

Gardenias is the continuation of the story started in The Cape Ann.  The characters are richly developed, and their resolutions I could accept.  The book is a pensive one, but one worth reading.

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The Amber Shadows by Lucy Ribchester

The Amber Shadows

The Amber Shadows, Lucy Ribchester’s sophomore novel, is a fantastic mystery set in Bletchley Park in 1942.  Honey Dechamps is a Type X Machine worker in Hut 6, transcribing decrypted signals from the Germans.  Walking home one night, she meets Felix and his greyhound; he gives her a package with Russian postmarks and the branding of two censors.  Inside in a piece of amber.  Honey continues to receive these packages, and tries to piece together the puzzle, figure out who Felix is, and protect her job in Hut 6.  Her quest involves friends, family, co-workers, and a cryptic puzzle for this reader as I tried to solve the mystery before Honey.

I really enjoyed The Amber Shadows.  It flew under my upcoming releases radar, and was the last book I unpacked from a Baker and Taylor order at the library.  If it had been the first book, we might still be waiting for the rest of those books!  I liked the look into Bletchley Park, and found my curiosity nurtured.  My last glimpse was when The Bletchley Circle aired on PBS a few years ago.  I liked the detail, the pace, and the ending of that series.  The Amber Shadows sent me on a search for more information about Bletchley-images of the huts, the decoding machines, the people who worked there-as well as more stories featuring these British code-breakers.  I think I will need to watch The Imitation Game, starring Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch.  I hope you will give The Amber Shadows a try!

BletchleyPark.org.uk says:

Bletchley Park is a place of exceptional historical importance. It remains highly relevant to our lives today and for the future. It is the home of British code-breaking and a birthplace of modern information technology. It played a major role in World War Two, producing secret intelligence which had a direct and profound influence on the outcome of the conflict.

Some Bletchley images…

Image result for bletchley park

from http://www.visitengland.com

Image result for bletchley park huts

from http://www.bbc.com

Image result for bletchley park huts

from http://www.bbc.com

For more information, see http://www.bletchleypark.uk.org

 

 

 

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