Saturday, April 01, 2017

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Becomes a Movie, The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan, The Turner House by Angela Flournoy, The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron, and Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was my favorite book the year that it came out, and I am thrilled it's now become a movie. I will be first in line for a ticket when it premiers!

Movies: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Director Mike Newell has added several actors to his film adaptation of
the international bestseller The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Deadline reported that new cast
members include Glen Powell (Hidden Figures), Michiel Huisman (The Age
of Adeline, Game of Thrones), Matthew Goode (The Imitation Game, Downton
Abbey), Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey), Tom Courtenay (45 Years)
and Penelope Wilton (The BFG, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). They join
Lily James, who will star as Juliet Ashton in the project, which has
begun filming in the U.K.

The script was written by Don Roos, Kevin Hood and Tom Bezucha.
Producing are Paula Mazur and Mitchell Kaplan from the Mazur/Kaplan
Company (he is the owner of Books & Books in southern Florida and the Cayman Islands), with Graham Broadbent and Pete Czernin from Blueprint Pictures (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, In
Mazur/Kaplan "is a book-centric production company that recently wrapped
production on The Man Who Invented Christmas, directed by Bharat
Nalluri, starring Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast) and Christopher
Plummer," Deadline noted. "Also on its slate is The Silent Wife with
Nicole Kidman and All The Bright Places starring Elle Fanning and
directed by Miguel Arteta."
Speaking of GLPPPS, because it was such a successful book, hundreds of books that followed have been compared to it, including The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan, which I bought at full price, solely on the blurb and the comparison to the above. Unfortunately, like most comparisons with truly great novels, Chilbury falls short in several ways. Like Guernsey, it is an epistolary novel, told through diary entries and letters that the characters write to friends and relations during the dark days of World War II in England. But unlike Guernsey, which is rife with lovable and fascinating characters, Chilbury is a town full of selfish, cruel, greedy and unsavory people, as well as some delusional preteens, and they're not at all charming or fun. In fact, the only character I could identify with at all was Mrs Tilling, the local nurse, who was the most decent character in the whole town, and even she was willing to keep the horrible town midwife's secret, as long as it suited her agenda. I also felt like many of the characters were stereotypes that weren't fully fleshed out. There's the vain and cruel "prettiest" girl in town, Venetia, who spends a lot of time on her looks and bragging that she can seduce and discard any man/boy in town with nary a quiver of conscience, and there's her 13 year old sister Kitty, who has a beautiful singing voice and wants to be a star one day, but she's terribly jealous of her sister and believes that the town hero, who has been in love with her sister for years and assumes that they will marry, is actually going to marry Kitty, based on a side remark he made to placate her when they were children. There's their out of control brute of a father who literally horse whips his children until they bleed, and there's the spy disguised as an artist who paints the vain Venetia nude and eventually gets her pregnant.  Here's the blurb:  
As England enters World War II's dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar's stuffy edict to shutter the church's choir in the absence of men and instead "carry on singing." Resurrecting themselves as "The Chilbury Ladies' Choir," the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives.
Told through letters and journals, THE CHILBURY LADIES' CHOIR moves seamlessly from budding romances to village intrigues to heartbreaking matters of life and death. As we come to know the struggles of the charismatic members of this unforgettable outfit-- a timid widow worried over her son at the front; the town beauty drawn to a rakish artist; her younger sister nursing an impossible crush and dabbling in politics she doesn't understand; a young Jewish refugee hiding secrets about her family, and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past-- we come to see how the strength each finds in the choir's collective voice reverberates in her individual life. In turns funny, charming and heart-wrenching, this lovingly executed ensemble novel will charm and inspire, illuminating the true spirit of the women on the homefront, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict.
The only thing that saves this novel is the choir, which actually saves the town's spirit and helps many of the women/girls in the town deal with their problems by making music. I could identify with that as a lover of vocal music since childhood. This novel could also be considered a romance, as all of the characters are paired up by the end, which is a nice, neat HEA for the most part. Still, the prose is clean and clear and moves the plot along smoothly. It's a fast read that I was able to accomplish in a day. For that reason and for the unshakable Ms Tilling, I'll give this book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who likes historical romantic fiction.

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy was also rife with characters who weren't good people, in this case a black family with 13 children, raised in Detroit, Michigan and mostly messed up by addictions and infidelities of one kind or another. The eldest, Charles, called Cha-Cha, has the main story arc, followed by the youngest, Lelah, who has a gambling addiction. A majority of the children seem to lie, cheat, steal and have addictions to alcohol or drugs or gambling, and the few that don't aren't portrayed as being anything but self-righteous and dull.  The men, especially Cha-Cha, seem unable to see women outside of their family as anything but sexual prey. I found this to be rather nauseating and a stereotype of black men being unable to raise their children because they have illegitimate children with so many women. None of the Turners seem to be very self aware, or bright, and they thrive on secrets and unhappiness. Here's the blurb:  
The Turners have lived on Yarrow Street for over fifty years. Their house has seen thirteen children grown and gone—and some returned; it has seen the arrival of grandchildren, the fall of Detroit’s East Side, and the loss of a father. The house still stands despite abandoned lots, an embattled city, and the inevitable shift outward to the suburbs. But now, as ailing matriarch Viola finds herself forced to leave her home and move in with her eldest son, the family discovers that the house is worth just a tenth of its mortgage. The Turner children are called home to decide its fate and to reckon with how each of their pasts haunts—and shapes—their family’s future. Praised by Ayana Mathis as “utterly moving” and “un-putdownable,” The Turner House brings us a colorful, complicated brood full of love and pride, sacrifice and unlikely inheritances. It’s a striking examination of the price we pay for our dreams and futures, and the ways in which our families bring us home.
Flournoy's prose is seductive and stylized in an urban sort of way, so even after I was disgusted with Cha-Cha's whining about the "haint" and his lusting after his therapist (who was clearly not interested, but that didn't stop him from hitting on her) and Lelah's constant lies to herself and others about her gambling addiction, I still read on, eager for someone to become self realized enough to get their life back on track and either raze their old house or short sell it. Unsurprisingly, no one did. Still, though the ending was disappointing, (and the book itself depressing), I'd give this book a B, mainly for the prose and the slippery plot, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the lives of African Americans who built cars in Detroit and then watched it fall to decay.

The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron is a YA novel dystopian novel with a science fiction twist. It's somewhat like the Star Trek episode, "The Return of the Archons" in which the whole town worships "Landru" and goes crazy once a quarter and tears one another apart in a frenzy of Id. Or the movie "The Purge" with Ethan Hawke, where much the same thing happens. Only in this town, every 12 years, a "comet" comes by and wipes out everyone's memory of their horrible deeds. Every member of the town carries a book in which they record their memories so that when the Forgetting happens, they can at least remember their names and who their parents/siblings or husbands/wives are. Sadly, some use this opportunity to abandon their families and start over with other spouses/children. Their town is surrounded by a wall, which the town council has forbidden anyone to climb over, but, inevitably, it is climbed by the protagonist, an intrepid young woman named Nadia, who makes fascinating discoveries in the world outside of her walled village. Here's the blurb:  
What isn't written, isn't remembered. Even your crimes. Nadia lives in the city of Canaan, where life is safe and structured, hemmed in by white stone walls and no memory of what came before. But every twelve years the city descends into the bloody chaos of the Forgetting, a day of no remorse, when each person's memories -- of parents, children, love, life, and self -- are lost. Unless they have been written.
In Canaan, your book is your truth and your identity, and Nadia knows exactly who hasn't written the truth. Because she is the only person in Canaan who has never forgotten.
But when Nadia begins to use her memories to solve the mysteries of Canaan, she discovers truths about herself and Gray, the handsome glassblower, that will change her world forever. As the anarchy of the Forgetting approaches, Nadia and Gray must stop an unseen enemy that threatens both their city and their own existence -- before the people can forget the truth. And before Gray can forget her.
Of course there is a romantic subplot, because, as I've mentioned before, all YA dystopian fiction with a female protagonist HAS to have the girl fall in love with the rogue guy, who then partners with her to solve the novel's main problem, because teenage girls can't possibly exist without a guy and romantic entanglements. That said, at least Nadia is reluctant to reveal her secret forays and discoveries beyond the wall to Gray, and when it turns out he's been employed by the head of the council, who is completely evil, to follow Nadia and report back on her movements and discoveries, it appears that she was right in her reluctance. When it is revealed that there's a substance coming from the town trees, which bloom every 12 years that is actually the culprit in the forgetting, Nadia and Gray must try and save as many people as possible from its effects, while trying to bring down the corrupt head of the council. I liked the generational space ship crashed on the planet background, and I thought the novel's workmanlike prose and measured plot worked hand in hand to make this a page-turner of a novel. An A and a recommendation to those who like the themes presented above is well warrented.

Finally, Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister was a true delight of a novel, full of engaging characters and a thrilling plot that left me yearning for more. Here's the blurb:
Inspired by the real story of investigator Kate Warne, this spirited novel follows the detective's rise during one of the nation's times of crisis, bringing to life a fiercely independent woman whose forgotten triumphs helped sway the fate of the country.
With no money and no husband, Kate Warne finds herself with few choices. The streets of 1856 Chicago offer a desperate widow mostly trouble and ruin—unless that widow has a knack for manipulation and an unusually quick mind. In a bold move that no other woman has tried, Kate convinces the legendary Allan Pinkerton to hire her as a detective.
Battling criminals and coworkers alike, Kate immerses herself in the dangerous life of an operative, winning the right to tackle some of the agency's toughest investigations. But is the woman she's becoming—capable of any and all lies, swapping identities like dresses—the true Kate? Or has the real disguise been the good girl she always thought she was? Publisher's Weekly: Macallister (The Magician’s Lie) pens an exciting, well-crafted historical novel featuring Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective in 1856 Chicago. Kate is a widow and needs a job, convincing Allan Pinkerton that a female detective can go places and do things a male detective cannot. Once hired, Kate becomes skilled at lock picking and surveillance, but she is best in disguise—as a prostitute, rich matron, spinster, clerk, Southern belle, doting sister, and false friend—an expert liar, playing a role. She investigates burglaries, bank robberies, embezzlement, counterfeiting, blackmail, and murder. The Pinkerton Detective Agency is a man’s world, and Kate is forced to prove herself, especially when someone tries to discredit her. She eventually earns the respect of her fellow detectives, learning a secret to be used later. Kate carries a pistol, but her wit, careful observation, and boldness see her through tricky and unexpected situations with desperate, dangerous criminals. In 1861 Kate comes up with an ingenious plan to protect President Lincoln from a Southern assassination plot, and she later works as a Pinkerton spy in the South during the Civil War, vowing revenge on whoever betrayed her lover and focusing on a formidable adversary, the notorious real-life Southern spy Mrs. Rose Greenhow. Loaded with suspense and action, this is a well-told, superb story.
I can't say enough good things about this "well told, superb story." I enjoyed every chapter. Kate is a wonderful heroine, bright and tough, who refuses to let circumstances get the better of her. I loved that she rose in the ranks of Pinkerton's agency to have her own "ladies" section, where she could train female agents in detective methods and disguises. The pace of this novel is breathtaking, and just when you think Kate has solved one problem and is in the clear, something worse crops up, and Kate is called upon to use her burgeoning skills to ferret out the evildoer. I could not put this book down, and read it all in one sitting. A well deserved A, for Girl in Disguise, and a recommendation to anyone who enjoys historical thrillers, with a heartfelt plea for Ms Macallister to write more fiction, posthaste!

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