Sunday, May 31, 2015

A quintet of books

I have been chain-reading, hence my lack of blogging, but I thought it was high time I wrote about what I have been reading. I think you will find it an eclectic mix, and I cannot see a common theme, but feel free to correct me. Four are by women, and five are by my favourite authors. It's funny, but when I was younger, I only read books written by men, and now I am older, I seem to focus on female authors, with the exception of Michael Crichton, and we will come to him later.

So, the first was Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen. I have been a fan since her first book, Garden Spells, which I still love. Her books are gentle, romantic, and magical, similar to Alice Hoffman, but less harsh. This book is about two family members, estranged due to circumstances beyond their control, but in need of each other. It is set in a holiday camp by a lake, and tells a lovely story about love, friendship, and working together to make something happen. The women in all her books are really strong, and usually have a special sense, which makes the tale even more enchanting.

The next book I read was so inspiring. The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion, by Fannie Flagg, who wrote Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe, which is just fantastic! Anyway, this latest book was about a couple who emigrated from Poland to America, and opened a filling station in a small town, in the 1920s. They had several daughters, and each was taught how to manage the filling station, including basic mechanics, so they could do emergency repairs where necessary. They could all drive, and then one learned to fly, and as the war started, they all learned, and helped the war effort by delivering planes to where they were needed. This is such an amazing story! Talk about total girl power! I hadn't heard about what women did during the war in America, and it is just so impressive. This isn't just about flying and mechanics. There is romance, which leads to an unexpected twist, and brings the story to modern times. These women did so much during the war, and when it was over, their roles were taken over by soldiers returning from the frontline, and they were just expected to stop flying planes and return to their kitchens with no recognition. What a shock that must have been!

So, next I read Adriana Trigiani's book, The Supreme Macaroni Company. Again, her books are about strong female immigrants, this time from Italy. I love her books because they go into so much detail about Italian culture, food, and with this one, making quality, leather shoes. It makes me want to be an Italian living in America, returning home on a regular basis. My one criticism is that in all her books, the woman sounds a pain in the neck to be married to. That sounds harsh, but they seem very needy and confused when it comes to the men they love, and don't always treat them nicely. Despite that, I really enjoyed the book and look forward to more.

Now, on to the men. I have loved most of Michael Crichton's books. I don't like his more recent ones, like Rising Sun, Disclosure, Prey, and I think it is because they are too realistic. Jurassic Park (so much better than the film), Congo, Sphere, could all possibly happen, but probably not. Anyway, he started writing to make money while he was a medical student, and he wrote under another name, John Lange, which I have only recently discovered. These books are brilliant, quite sexist, due to the time they were written, but great. I have just read The Venom Business about a man who smuggles ancient artefacts, by hiding them among venomous snakes as a distraction. It is an action adventure thriller, with twists throughout, and it is very creative. I can't compare him with anyone because he has such a unique style. Might not suit everyone, because there is a lot of machismo, but it is very entertaining and well-written.

So finally, my wildcard. I love the film Grand Budapest Hotel. Total genius, and I discovered that it was based on the writings of Stefan Zweig, an intriguing author whose books were banned by the Nazis, and who fled with his wife to Brazil, where they killed themselves. I wanted to read his books, and randomly chose Beware of Pity. It was a wonderful, albeit frenetic surprise! Set in the Austria-Hungary, just before the start of World War I, it tells the story of Lieutenant Anton Hoffmuller, who takes pity on the crippled daughter of a wealthy business man, who is delighted with the friendship. It is a wonderful yet tragic story about friendship, misunderstanding, and pity. I really enjoyed it, although I found the emotional feelings both exhausting and engaging. Usually you read about the hysterical emotional female, so it was interesting to read about the Lieutenant's conflicting emotions and how he deals with them. It is told in the first person of Lieutenant Hoffmuller, so you really feel the roller coaster of emotions that he goes through, it is a superb piece of writing, and well done to Wes Anderson, director of Grand Budapest Hotel, for perfectly translating the style and characters so accurately. While the film isn't about this book, I could definitely recognise similarities between the style and the characters.

So that's that. Now I can feel less guilty about starting my next book. I hope I have given you some books for thought. Remember to share your recommendations too!