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Posts Tagged ‘1930s’

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The Blurb: 

England, September 1939. Lily Shepherd boards a cruise liner for a new life in Australia and is plunged into a world of cocktails, jazz and glamorous friends. But as the sun beats down, poisonous secrets begin to surface. Suddenly Lily finds herself trapped with nowhere to go…

Australia, six weeks later. The world is at war, the cruise liner docks, and a beautiful young woman is escorted on to dry land in handcuffs.

What has she done?

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My thoughts: 

I had really been looking forward to reading this book, believing that it was some kind of murder mystery set in turbulent times. It sounded like just the kind of book I would enjoy, and I did enjoy it although it was not quite what I expected and the comparisons with Agatha Christie which I read in some reviews were way off the mark. But that is not to complain – it’s a well written story, definitely more character driven than plot driven. The threat of WWII looms large and causes tension among the passengers, especially when Lily makes friends with a young Jewish woman named Maria, much to the disapproval of some other passengers.

Other than Lily herself, the main characters are a brother and sister named Edward and Helena, who befriend Lily, and a glamorous American couple named Eliza and Max Campbell who have a scandalous background. All the different personalities thrust together in an intimate setting, are bound to make for tension and this tension pervades the story.

I did not guess the ending, although in hindsight, there were clues peppered throughout the book. I did think it was cleverly written and would definitely read more by this author.

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Year of first publication: 2017

Genre: Mystery, drama

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This book jumps backwards and forwards in time, and chapters are alternately told from the memory of Mrs Threadgoode, an elderly lady in a nursing home who is reminiscing to Evelyn Crouch, a deeply unhappy housewife who attends the home to visit her mother-in-law and in the third person during the 1930s – 1960s, which is when the majority of the story itself takes place. There are also inserts from The Weems Weekly, an informal gossip paper from the town of Whistle Stop, and various other newspapers from places around Alabama.

As the story would suggest, the majority of the story revolves around the Whistle Stop Cafe, which was run by Imogen ‘Idgie’ Threadgoode, and her friend Ruth, and which became a communal point for many people in the little town of Whistle Stop.

Although the book features such themes as murder, racism and marital abuse, it does somehow manage to be light reading and even what I would describe as fluffy in some parts. That is in no way a criticism however; like Evelyn – who does get a few chapters devoted to her personally and her own ‘journey’ from depression – I enjoyed Mrs Threadgoode’s reminiscences and memories of a different time, when people trusted one another, and everybody knew everybody else’s business.

It’s definitely an undemanding read, filled with memorable characters – my favourite was Idgie, who was feisty, funny and fiercely devoted to those around her. Some of the racial epithets jarred a little, but for the main part they were reflecting attitudes of the time that the story was set in, so I could see why they were there, but it is still something that we are not as used to in more modern books.

Still though, if you are looking for a feel-good book to curl up on the sofa with and lose yourself in, you could do a lot worse than this. I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, by the same author, but I did like it a lot, and would certainly like to read more by Fannie Flagg.

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Set in Snow Hill, London, in 1936, this books tells the story of newspaper reporter Johnny Steadman, who gets an anonymous tip-off that a policeman at Snow Hill Station has been killed. However, when he asks other police officers about it – including his best friend PC Matt Turner – nobody will corroborate the story, and Johnny is told to leave well alone.

Wanting to get to the truth of the matter, he keeps digging and the discovery of a gruesome murder scene makes him only more determined. But soon it becomes apparent that there is a web of corruption being spun to cover up a number of horrific violations, and Johnny ends up fighting not only for his own life, but also to save the lives of those closest to him…

My thoughts

This book was certainly not what I was expecting. What I had thought it would be was a psychological thriller with a scrappy but good-hearted protagonist. I was half-right…Johnny did make for a fairly likeable main character. He is certainly the most well drawn character of the plot – the rest are drawn with fairly broad strokes and more than a little stereotyping.

The story itself was considerably more gruesome than I had expected. The murder scene which Johnny stumbles upon as described above, was particularly unpleasant, and the plot revolves heavily around male sexual assault and violation (no spoilers here; this part is made apparent fairly early on) and subsequent cover-up.

However, for all that the story flowed pretty well and I found myself reading large chunks at a time.

Overall, I would have liked a bit more characterisation – I never felt that we got to know Matt’s wife Lizzie, or Johnny’s colleague Bill as well as we could have done and it might have drawn me in a bit more if I had been able to invest more in the characters. Nonetheless, based on this book I would probably try more by this author.

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Set in Ghana in (initially) the 1930s, this is the story of Matilda, a 14 year old girl who has to grow up quickly when she is chosen to become the second wife of successful lawyer Robert Bannerman. With no say over her future and an avaricious family who are keen to capitalise on Matilda’s marriage, her childhood meets an abrupt end. The marriage is also a horrible affront to Robert’s current wife Julie, who forms an instant hatred of Matilda and will go to almost any lengths to make her life a misery.

On the other side of the island is Alan Turton, a genial Englishman who has moved to Ghana and taken up a role working for the Governor. While he embraces his new way of life, his new wife Audrey hates it and takes to drinking all day long and longing for a return to England.

The book focusses slightly more on Matilda’s story – certainly I felt that out of all the characters, Matilda was the one who was depicted most clearly and who was easily the most distinctive voice (although the book is told in the third person).

I enjoyed the insight into Ghanian life in the 1930s, and in particular into the life of a young girl with no control over her future. I also liked the political backdrop with some people – such as Robert – welcoming the colonials and believing that it will eventually be good for Ghana’s independence, while others resent it seeing it as the British Empire trying to assert themselves where they have no right. There are also descriptions of Christianity versus Traditionalism, and the pervading sense of racism features in the book too.

I found that apart from Matilda, who was a wonderful character, I did not really like any of the other characters. Audrey was difficult to warm to, although I could sympathise with her situation. I didn’t like her husband who despite his friendliness and apparent liberalism, was entirely selfish in the way he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – see how unhappy his wife was, and even when he did, he was not prepared to do anything whatsoever to try and help her. Robert was charismatic but in many ways a cowardly chauvinist and Julie was despicable, although her shock and humiliation was understandable. Most of all, Matilda’s family were the worst – they cared only about what they would gain from Matilda’s marriage, and expected her to put up with deplorable behaviour for their sakes. This is not a criticism of the story, as I am sure they were intentionally shown that way.

The writing was rich and descriptive, and I did enjoy the book in the main. I am not sure I would be waiting in line to buy a new book by Marilyn Heward Mills, but I think I would certainly be interested in reading more  by her at some point.

 

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Roy Hobbs is a baseball player who comes almost out of nowhere in the 1930s, to join the New York Knights, who are going through a losing streak.  Nobody has ever heard of Hobbs, who has never played professionally, but his talent for the game is undeniable, despite him being nearer retirement age for the sport, than a youthful rookie.  As the film shows, his career was halted for a while by an unforeseen tragedy, but that doesn’t stop his determination to be the best baseball player in history.

This is a beautifully shot, wonderfully acted film, with an air of magic about it.  Robert Redford, at nearly 50 years of age, may have been slightly too old to play Hobbs, but it doesn’t matter at all – partly because he looks so youthful, and partly because he embodies the role so completely.  Glenn Close is Iris, the sweet woman from his past, and Kim Basinger is Memo, the avaricious girl who dates him after he becomes famous.

This is certainly a baseball movie, but you do not have to be a fan of the sport to appreciate and enjoy the film (although personally speaking, Baseball is about the only sport which I can enjoy watching).  In fact, the sport scenes are very enjoyable, and I could feel the excitement and tension of the players and the crowd.

I loved Redford as the gruff but brutally honest Hobbs, and Close as the young lady he almost left behind.  Basinger was great in an extremely unsympathetic role, and Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth gave excellent support as Pop Fisher and Red Blow, the manager and co-owner of the NY Knights, and his assistant.  The always superb Robert Duvall also makes the most of his role as Max Mercy, an unscrupulous sports journalist.

Not just a sports movie, but an allegory for life, this film was unexpectedly delightful and moving.  As a Redford fan, I was bound to enjoy it, but it exceeded my expectations, and I would certainly recommend it.

Year of release: 1984

Director: Barry Levinson

Producers: Philip M. Breen, Roger Towne, Mark Johnson, Robert F. Colesberry

Writers: Bernard Malamud (novel), Roger Towne, Phil Dusenberry

Main cast: Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Richard Farnsworth

 

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This is a BBC adaptation of Winifred Holtby’s novel of the same name, set in the 1930s.  I haven’t read the novel (although I would now like to), but that did mean that I had the advantage of enjoying the tv adaptation on it’s own merits, rather than comparing; and of course I didn’t know how it was going to end.

Anna Maxwell Martin is Sarah Burton, originally from the Yorkshire town of South Riding, who returns there to become headmistress of a girls’ school, after 20 years teaching in London and South Africa.  Sarah’s feminist beliefs raise a few eyebrows, especially when she announces that she wants the girls she teaches to realise that they can have a career and be whoever they want to be, rather than becoming a wife and mother as would expected.  Councillor Robert Carne (David Morrissey) is opposed to Sarah’s views, and initially the two don’t get on at all.  Relations between them do thaw, but there is tragedy in Robert’s past, which threatens to obstruct their budding relationship.

We also see the stories of Robert’s daughter Midge, who blames herself for her mother’s tragic fate; and Lydia, a young girl from a poor family, who is very intelligent, but her family need her to work rather than go to school.

John Henshaw is Councillor Huggins, an outwardly very religious and pious man, but his dalliance with a pert young girl from the village will have repercussions…

I really liked this period drama – it is darker than a lot of dramas from the same period, showing the difficulties of life for many of the villagers.  The central story between Sarah Burton and Robert Carne has shadows of Jane Eyre, but this does not necessarily mean that the characters in this story will have the same happy ending as Jane and Edward did.

The cast were terrific, with Penelope Wilton as reliable as ever as the kind and intelligent Mrs Beddowes, the district’s first female Alderman.  David Morrissey is also great as the dour and tortured Carne.  However, this is really Anna Maxwell Martin’s show, and she really is terrific in the role of Sarah.  This actress has such a fabulous range, and it was a pleasure to watch the character display such turns of emotion and deal with the problems which she met in her life and job.

This is an entirely different sort of period drama to shows such as Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs (both fantastic), which concentrate on the upper classes and their households.  This show centres on the working classes, the everyday villagers, and the youth of the village.

I’m reluctant to give away any more of the storyline, but I would certainly recommend this drama.  I’m off now to hunt out my copy of the book…

Year of release: 2011

Director: Diarmuid Lawrence

Writers: Winifred Holtby (book), Andrew Davies

Main cast: Anna Maxwell Martin, David Morrissey, John Henshall, Penelope Wilton, Charlie Clark, Douglass Henshall, Katherine McGolphin

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When wealthy businessman Gregory Matthews is found dead in bed one morning, it is generally assumed that his heart gave out after a particularly rich roast duck the night before.  But when it’s revealed that he was actually poisoned chaos ensues, and Superintendent Hannasyde must decide which of Matthews’ family would have wanted to murder him.  Not an easy task, as they all had motive…and nobody in the family seems able to trust anybody else.

This is the first Georgette Heyer book I’ve read – it won’t be the last.  I enjoyed the mystery aspect of the story, but more than that I liked the amusing and wit which the author uses throughout the story, especially to describe the various members of the Matthews’ family, with all their various idiosyncrasies.  All of the characters were well described and I found myself plunged into the story from the first page.

My favourite characters were Stella (Matthews’ niece) and Randall, who while impertinent and naughty, provided a lot of entertainment throughout the story with his clever sarcasm and obvious disdain for most of the family.

I also really liked Inspector Hannasyde.  This is not the first book by the author in which he appears, but I didn’t feel that it was necessary to have read any of the others before reading this one.  So often in fiction, police characters seem to have marital problems, drink too much and argue with their superiors, and it was refreshing to read about an officer who seemed perfectly level headed and just wanted to get on with the job.

I thought I had worked out the ending about two thirds of the way through the book; I had got some elements right, but the ending itself was a surprise and I certainly could not have predicted it.

This book is both a police procedural set in the 1930s, and a gentle comedy centering on the dynamics of an unusual family.  I enjoyed it immensely and will certainly be looking out for more books by Georgette Heyer.

(For more information about the author, please click here.)

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